20, 2017 Session
from the Circuit Court for Knox County No. 125048 Gregory S.
an appeal from a final decree of divorce. The Appellant
Rebecca Rothchild ("Mother") challenges the trial
court's division of marital property, its designation of
Bobby Pack ("Father") as the primary custodian of
the parties' children, and its refusal to award her
alimony. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the
judgment of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Affirmed and Remanded
C. Garland, II, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Rebecca Suzanna Rothchild.
Theodore Kern, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Bobby
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
and Father married in January 2006. Two children, both boys,
were born of the marriage. The parties' first child was
born in December 2006. Their second child was born in March
several years of marriage, Mother and Father separated in
February 2012. The present litigation soon followed when
Father filed a complaint for divorce in the Fourth Circuit
Court for Knox County on June 7, 2012. In his complaint,
Father asserted that he had been the children's primary
care-taker prior to the separation. He further contended that
he was the proper person to act as the primary residential
parent for the children. Although the case was subsequently
referred to mediation, the parties were not able to settle
October 2, 2014, Mother filed an answer to Father's
complaint, as well as a counter-complaint for divorce.
Whereas Father's complaint had asserted that he should be
appointed primary residential parent for the children,
Mother's counter-complaint contended that she should be
designated for that role. Father filed an answer to
Mother's counter-complaint on November 13, 2014, and a
multi-day trial commenced the following summer. Trial
proceedings concluded on February 3, 2016.
March 31, 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court entered its order of
divorce. In addition to declaring the parties divorced
pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-129, the
court divided the parties' marital debts and assets, held
that Father should be appointed primary residential parent,
and dismissed Mother's claim for alimony. Mother timely
appealed to this Court.
appeal, Mother raises three issues for our review, which we
have reworded as follows:
1. Whether the trial court erred when it granted Father
primary custody of the children.
2. Whether the trial court erred in its division of the
parties' debts and assets.
3. Whether the trial court erred when it did not award Mother
general matter, our review of a trial court's factual
findings is de novo upon the record, accompanied by a
presumption of correctness unless the preponderance of the
evidence is otherwise. Northland Ins. Co. v. State Farm
Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 916 S.W.2d 924, 926 (Tenn. Ct. App.
1995). With that said, "[a]n incomplete appellate record
is fatal to an appeal on the facts." Piper v.
Piper, No. M2005-02541-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 295237, at *4
(Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 1, 2007). Indeed, absent an appellate
record containing the facts, "we must assume that the
record, had it been preserved, would have contained
sufficient evidence to support the trial court's factual
findings." Sherrod v. Wix, 849 S.W.2d 780, 783
(Tenn. Ct. App. 1992) (citations omitted). The burden is on
the appellant to provide the Court with a transcript of the
evidence or a statement of the evidence from which this Court
can determine whether the evidence preponderates for or
against a particular factual finding. Coakley v.
Daniels, 840 S.W.2d 367, 370 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992).
Questions of law are reviewed de novo with no presumption of
correctness. In re Angela E., 303 S.W.3d 240, 246
(Tenn. 2010) (citations omitted).
domestic relations cases, trial judges are often tasked with
making a number of discretionary decisions. See,
e.g., Massey-Holt v. Holt, 255 S.W.3d 603, 607
(Tenn. Ct. App. 2007) (citation omitted) ("[A] trial
court has broad discretion regarding a custody
determination."); Larsen-Ball v. Ball, 301
S.W.3d 228, 234 (Tenn. 2010) (citation omitted)
("Because trial courts have broad discretion in dividing
the marital estate, the division of marital property is not a
mechanical process."). When reviewing a discretionary
decision on appeal, we employ an abuse of discretion
standard. "The abuse of discretion standard of review
envisions a less rigorous review of the lower court's
decision and a decreased likelihood that the decision will be
reversed on appeal." Lee Med., Inc. v. Beecher,
312 S.W.3d 515, 524 (Tenn. 2010) (citations omitted). This
standard of review does not allow us to second-guess a trial
court, as it "reflects an awareness that the decision
being reviewed involved a choice among several acceptable
alternatives." Id. (citations omitted).
less rigorous, the abuse of discretion standard does not
immunize trial court decisions from appellate review.
Boyd v. Comdata Network, Inc., 88 S.W.3d 203, 211
(Tenn. Ct. App. 2002) (citation omitted). Indeed, the
standard does "not prevent us from examining the trial
court's decision to determine whether it has taken the
applicable law and the relevant facts into account."
Id. (citation omitted). A trial court abuses its
discretion when "it causes an injustice to the party
challenging the decision by (1) applying an incorrect legal
standard, (2) reaching an illogical or unreasonable decision,
or (3) basing its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment
of the evidence." Lee Med., Inc., 312 S.W.3d at
524 (citations omitted).
first to Mother's assertion that the trial court erred
when it granted Father primary custody of the parties'
children. A trial court's decision concerning
the custody of a child is one of the most important decisions
confronting a trial court in a divorce case. Chaffin v.
Ellis, 211 S.W.3d 264, 286 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006)
(citation omitted). When reaching a decision regarding
custody, "the needs of the child are paramount, and the
desires of the parents are secondary." Id.
(citation omitted). ...