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In re Jake S.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 29, 2015


Session Date: February 25, 2015

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 163286 Sophia Brown Crawford, Judge

Thomas H. Miller, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jeffrey S.

James L. Curtis and Barbara Fisher Henry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Geneva P.

W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.



I. Factual and Procedural Background

Jake S. was born out-of-wedlock in 2011 to Jeffrey S. ("Father") and Geneva P. ("Mother"). Mother and Father were in an intermittent romantic relationship for the first couple of years of Jake's life. The parties ended their relationship sometime in summer 2012. On August 24, 2012, Father filed a petition to establish paternity. He also requested a determination of custody, visitation, and child support. During the pendency of Father's petition, the court required Father to submit to random drug screens and granted him supervised parenting time for four hours per week.

A juvenile court magistrate judge conducted a hearing on Father's petition on February 15, 2013. In an order entered March 28, 2013, the court established Father's paternity of Jake and approved a permanent parenting plan. The parenting plan named Mother as the primary residential parent and granted her 275 days of parenting time. The plan granted Father 90 days of parenting time and ordered him to pay $369 in monthly child support. The parties were granted joint decision-making authority. The court reserved the issue of retroactive child support.

After a hearing regarding child support, the magistrate judge entered a nunc pro tunc order[1] on October 24, 2013, setting Father's monthly child support obligation at $156.00 per month and retroactive child support obligation at $2, 964.00. Father was ordered to pay $50 per month towards the arrearage. The magistrate judge also adjusted Mother's parenting time to 230 days and Father's parenting time to 135 days. On June 3, 2013, Mother moved for a hearing before a juvenile court judge on the issues of parenting time, child support, and drug testing.[2]

On December 19, 2013, the juvenile court judge conducted a de novo hearing. Mother testified that: (1) Father previously used marijuana when he stayed with Mother; (2) Father sometimes left Jake in the care of his former wife and her father; (3) Father's former wife once left Jake in a car without adult supervision; (4) Father had allowed Jake to watch inappropriate video games; (5) Father had sexually propositioned her via text messages; (6) Jake's diaper had been incorrectly changed by Father's former father-in-law on one occasion; (7) Jake sometimes refers to Father's former wife as "Mommy"; and (8) Father had not adequately cared for Jake when he was sick on two occasions. Mother maintained that Father had not lived with Jake and her after Jake's birth. She claimed that Father went back and forth between her home and his former wife's home from May 2011 to July 2012. Mother also stated that Father did not provide any support for Jake from his birth until at least July 2012.

Father represented himself at the hearing. After Mother closed her proof, Father initially declined to offer any proof. Counsel for Mother then called Father to testify.[3]Father admitted that he had previously used marijuana and had tested positive two times for drug use during the pendency of the paternity petition. He also admitted he had been convicted of a drug charge but claimed he had not used drugs since December 2012. Father denied that he encouraged Jake to call his former wife "Mommy, " and stated that he attempted to correct Jake when he did so. Contrary to Mother's testimony, Father claimed that he lived with Mother from the time of Jake's birth until summer 2012, but he conceded some back and forth between Mother's home and his former wife's home. When asked if Mother and he had "[b]roken up in the sense there was not going to be any back and forth, " Father responded, "[y]es."

On January 2, 2014, the juvenile court judge entered an order, incorporating a new permanent parenting plan. The court made findings of fact regarding only the parties' incomes, child credits, child care expenses, and Father's child support payments to Mother. The court set Father's child support at $331 per month retroactive to Jake's birth and awarded Mother a judgment for Father's arrearage in the amount of $10, 369.09. Father was required to pay an additional $50 per month towards the arrearage. The parenting plan named Mother as the primary residential parent, gave her all decision-making authority for the child, and granted her 285 days of parenting time. Father was granted 80 days of parenting time. The permanent parenting plan also prohibited Father from "consum[ing] any drugs, legal or illegal, 12 hours prior to exercising parenting time and while in the possession of the minor child."

Father filed motions to correct a clerical mistake and to amend findings of fact and to alter or amend the judgment. He requested that the court make additional findings of fact under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01 regarding the parenting schedule and retroactive child support.

In response to the motions, on May 15, 2014, the juvenile court entered a supplemental order. The court reduced Father's child support arrearage to $10, 194.09. The court also made the following additional findings regarding the best interest of the child:

1. The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents or caregivers and the child ...

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