Session Date: March 24, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No. 10D2000 W.
Jeffrey Hollingsworth, Judge
appeal concerns visitation in a post-divorce setting. Claire
Nicola Bell ("Mother") and Timothy John Bell
("Father") are parents of the two minor children at
issue, ages eleven and seven at trial ("the
Children"). Mother and Father divorced in 2012. Both
parents were named "co-primary residential parents"
and each parent received equal visitation time with the
Children. Later, as the arrangement grew contentious, Mother
filed a petition for modification seeking to be named
exclusive primary residential parent. Father, in turn, filed
a counter-petition seeking the same designation. A hearing
was conducted before the Circuit Court for Hamilton County
("the Trial Court"). Afterward, the Trial Court
named Father primary residential parent and awarded him
increased visitation time with the Children. We affirm the
judgment of the Trial Court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded.
Parks Varnell and Bryan H. Hoss, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for
the appellant, Claire Nicola Bell.
Russell Anne Swafford, Dunlap, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Timothy John Bell.
Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Charles D. Susano, Jr. and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
and Father divorced in 2012. The permanent parenting plan
designated Mother and Father "co-primary residential
parents" of their two minor children. However, the plan
further provided: "[I]n the event the Parental
Kidnapping Act or similar State or Federal Statu[t]e is
invoked, the Father shall be designated as the Primary
Residential Parent for these purposes." The parents
received equal visitation time at 182.5 days per year each,
with alternating weekends and alternating two days per week.
time of the divorce, both parents lived in North Chattanooga.
Father remarried and, with his new wife, had a daughter.
Mother went to reside with a close friend and the
Children's pediatrician, Dr. Jane Jones ("Dr.
Jones"). Father later bought a home in Signal Mountain,
Tennessee. Both children were enrolled at Normal Park
Elementary School. Father, previously a schoolteacher, took a
job in real estate development. Mother, originally from
England, is a rock climbing enthusiast who coaches rock
climbing from time to time. Dr. Jones and Mother moved to
another home in Chattanooga. Dr. Jones pays the mortgage,
and, indeed, pays for most of Mother's expenses.
Father's home is zoned for Signal Mountain schools. Due
to ongoing problems complying with the parenting plan, the
parties attended mediation in September 2014. Later, Father
made plans to relocate to the Knoxville area and so notified
October 2015, Mother filed her Petition for Modification and
Opposition to Parental Relocation in the Trial Court. Mother
sought to be designated the exclusive primary residential
parent. In December 2015, Father filed a response and
counter-petition seeking to be named the primary exclusive
residential parent himself. Soon after, Father announced that
he would not relocate, after all. More mediation ensued to no
avail. The parties submitted amended proposed parenting
plans. This matter was tried over the course of two days in
April and May 2016. Perhaps the most disputed issue at trial
was that of whether Mother neglected the Children's
educational needs in favor of their rock climbing. Also at
issue was Mother's apparent financial dependency on Dr.
Jones. We recount only the pertinent testimony.
testified that she and Dr. Jones have a deep platonic
friendship. Mother stated that she felt rock climbing was a
key part of the Children's lives. Mother testified at
length concerning her views on whether she and the Children
were overly consumed with rock climbing as well as whether
the Children's schoolwork suffered because of it:
Q. Ms. Bell, don't you think it's important for the
children to have more than one activity?
A. I think it's important for the children to be happy
and thriving and loving what they are doing, yes. And more
than one activity, sure. Climbing, cross country, fantastic.
Climbing, Daisy Scouts. There's nothing wrong with - -
[the Children], I definitely don't think something every
day after school, the children cannot handle. But yeah, no, I
don't have a problem with that.
Q. As long as climbing's included, correct?
A. Climbing, yes, to stop climbing is foolish. The children
They thrive from it. They are natural climbers. Their body
type is perfect. They don't struggle one bit with
climbing. All they do is excel, get better and better and
better. Happier and happier and happier about it. You know,
they win a competition on their second or you know - - they
go to the climbing gym and they climb their project that
they've been working on for three days. I mean,
they're just glowing. Climbing is such a positive part of
their lives and it has been a part of all of our family's
life for a number of years. Before they were born climbing
Q. And Ms. Bell, climbing is your preference. That was your
A. Tim -- when I met Tim, we were going to be climbing until
we were old.
That was it. We were going to have children, and we were
going to move to England. We were going to go to Australia,
we were going to be a climbing family. That's all we ever
did when we were married, every single weekend. Climbing was
Q. But it's fair to say, you're the one that wanted
the parenting to focus them on climbing, correct?
A. Not originally. They were born into a climbing family.
Q. Well, let me ask you this: You talked about they can
thrive and their body type is perfect, you don't know
that those children might thrive at soccer, do you? Or
basketball? Or any other sport, do you?
A. Soccer is a little bit iffy for [W.] because he does not
like to get muddy. Basketball, I think that what I would like
to see happen is that his dad takes him to basketball, one on
one, you know, go down to the YMCA. You know, let's do
this for a few months, [W.]. Let's see if you really like
Let's see if you're good at it. Let's have some
[W.]/dad time. You know, and then we'll see where
basketball goes. But we don't have any idea because he
signs him up for basketball out of just - - out of anywhere.
[W.]'s not even held a basketball for a year. And
[W.]'s confidence is low.
And you just don't know if [W.]'s going to thrive
with basketball. What
[W.] needs is to go with Dad to the Y and see where it goes.
Q. But you wouldn't know because all their time is
focused on climbing, correct?
A. Not all of their time, no.
Q. The majority of their time, correct?
A. No. Not enough of their time to be honest with you.
Q. So you would like to see them climb more?
A. They would like to climb more.
Q. You would like to see them climb more.
A. If it makes them happy, which I believe it does.
Q. Do you think [Father]'s not an appropriate parent?
A. I - - okay. I think on my schedule that the kids and Tim
will all thrive. I think that if you keep the schedule the
way it is or go to his schedule, you're just hurting
everyone and you're - - he is the most controlling person
ever. He has anger that I - - I just see that trying to
coparent him and I do not see this getting any better. It is
getting worse and worse and worse. And there was some - - it
is affecting [W.] in a very negative way. It's affecting
both children in ...