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Lewis v. Parmerter

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 31, 2017

HEATHER LEWIS
v.
MICHAEL JAMES PARMERTER

          Session September 7, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for White County No. 9840 Ronald Thurman, Chancellor

         Father appeals the order entered on the motion of the Mother of four children awarding her sole decision-making authority regarding the children's religious upbringing and designating that the children attend her church, contending, among other things, that the mandate that the children attend Mother's church violates his and the children's freedom of religious expression, as protected by the Federal and Tennessee Constitutions. We hold that the court did not abuse its discretion in granting Mother sole authority regarding the children's religious upbringing and modify the order to remove that portion specifying the church that the children are to attend.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Modified and Affirmed

          Johnnie Louis Johnson, III, Reston, Virginia, for the appellant, Michael James Parmerter.

          S. Brad Dozier, Brentwood, Tennessee, for the appellee, Heather Lewis.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and W. Neal McBrayer, J., joined.

          OPINION

          RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

         I. FACTUAL AND ROCEDURAL ISTORY[1]

         Heather Lewis ("Mother") and Michael James Parmerter ("Father") are parents of four minor children born during the course of their marriage. Mother and Father divorced in 2008, and at the time of the divorce, the court enter a parenting plan which designated Mother as primary residential parent and gave Mother and Father joint decision-making authority with respect to the children's religious upbringing. Since the divorce, the parties have engaged in much contentious litigation concerning the children and, particularly, their religious upbringing. A new parenting plan was entered on March 30, 2012; pertinent to the issues in this case, Mother was retained as primary residential parent, and the parties retained joint decision-making authority with respect to the religious upbringing of the children.

         On October 28, 2013, the court entered an order, inter alia, appointing a Guardian ad litem for the children.[2] On December 20, 2013, the court entered an order, inter alia, requiring Mother and Father to submit to a psychological evaluation in January 2014 and to follow counseling as recommended; the court set a review for March 25, 2014.[3]

         On February 27, 2015, the court entered an order reciting that a review hearing was held on February 6, ordering that the parties continue in counseling, and setting a hearing for March 30 on Father's motion to modify the parenting plan.[4]

         At the March 30, 2015 hearing, the court received evidence from Sheila Masters, psychotherapist for the family, in the form of a letter from Ms. Masters to the Guardian ad litem; the letter stated in pertinent part:[5]

As you know, I have been seeing the Parmerter family since February 6, 2015. . . . [Mother] has also reported that [Child 1] has become paranoid that "Jehovah" is watching everything that he does and that he will be punished when his father takes him back to "Jehovah's House", which Matthew has not ...

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