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In re Jalen O-H.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 29, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs February 2, 2017

         Direct Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 2015-2419, PT 206322 Jennifer N. Wade, Special Judge

         Father appeals an order of the trial court setting current child support, awarding retroactive child support, and changing the child's last name to a hyphenated name comprised of Father and Mother's surnames. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Edward Jordan Gross, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Father.

          Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Richard H. Dinkins and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.



         I. Facts & Procedural History

         Mother gave birth to Jalen O-H. (the "Child") on September 25, 2014. Father was not present for the birth of the Child and did not sign the birth certificate. However, on September 26, 2014, Father conducted a DNA test that ultimately confirmed Father was the biological father of the Child. Mother and Father have never been married, nor have they lived in the same household. Father visited the Child on a regular basis for the first three or four months of the Child's life but was not allowed to take the Child away from Mother, who was breastfeeding the Child at the time. Beginning in January 2015, Father exercised more visitation, including overnight visitations with the Child.

         In May 2015, Mother was hospitalized, and Father took custody of the Child. Shortly thereafter, Father filed the lawsuit at hand to establish parentage and for emergency placement of the Child with him. Magistrate Michael O'Neil granted the emergency placement with Father on May 20, 2015. On May 28, 2015, the magistrate held a hearing with both Mother and Father present and ordered that the parties would each exercise a fairly equal amount of parenting time. On October 21, 2015, the court entered a custody order designating Mother as the primary residential parent, Father as the alternate residential parent, and allowing Father 85 days of visitation per year. At that time, Father was ordered to pay $639 in child support based on an income of $2, 470.00 per month. Father was dissatisfied with this ruling and appealed the matter to the juvenile court.

         The juvenile court heard Father's appeal on January 12, 2016, and issued a written order of parentage and support on February 8, 2016. In this order, the juvenile court concluded that Mother should remain the primary residential parent but that Father should be granted additional parenting time. At that time, Mother was given 224 days of parenting time, and Father was given 141 days of parenting time. Further, the February 8, 2016 order stated that the "issues of retroactive support which the Mother may raise, and the change of the child's name, which Father may raise, are reserved until the next hearing."

         These two final issues were heard on May 12, 2016 before a special judge, who was sitting as juvenile court judge by designation. On June 27, 2016, the court entered a written order setting forth findings of fact and conclusions of law. In this order, the court ordered Father to pay Mother retroactive child support and changed the Child's name to a hyphenated version of Father and Mother's surnames. Father timely filed a notice of appeal.[1]

         II. Issues Presented

         Father presents the following issues for review on appeal, which we have restated:

1. Whether the trial court erred in assessing retroactive child support to the date of the Child's birth?
2. If retroactive child support is appropriate, whether the trial court erred in the calculation of the amount of retroactive support due by using incorrect income figures and assigning different support amounts for different periods of time?
3. Whether the trial court erred in setting an amount of current child support that was in conflict with an existing order of support set forth in a final judgment?
4. Whether the trial court erred in changing the Child's last name to a hyphenated name that includes the surnames of both Mother and Father rather than only the name of the Father?

         III. Standard of Review

         In nonjury cases, this Court's review is de novo, with a presumption of correctness as to the trial court's factual determinations, unless the evidence preponderates against those findings. Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d); Union Carbide Corp. v. Huddleston, 854 S.W.2d 87, 91 (Tenn. 1993). The trial court's conclusions of law, however, are afforded no such presumption. Campbell v. Florida Steel, 919 S.W.2d 26, 35 (Tenn.1996). This Court has set forth the following standard of review specifically for child support determinations:

[T]he adoption of the Child Support Guidelines has limited the courts' discretion substantially, and decisions regarding child support must be made within the strictures of the Child Support Guidelines.
. . . .
Because child support decisions retain an element of discretion, we review them using the deferential "abuse of discretion" standard. This standard is a review-constraining standard of review that calls for less intense appellate review and, therefore, less likelihood that the trial court's decision will be reversed. Appellate courts do not have the latitude to substitute their discretion for that of the trial court. Thus, a trial court's discretionary decision will be upheld as long as it is not clearly unreasonable, and reasonable minds can disagree about its correctness. Discretionary decisions must, however, take the applicable law and the relevant facts into account.

Richardson v. Spanos, 189 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005) (internal citations omitted).

         IV.Discus ...

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