Assigned on Briefs August 16, 2017
from the Chancery Court for White County No. 9930 Ronald
a post-divorce proceeding commenced by Mother to modify an
existing permanent parenting plan. The trial court entered a
default judgment, and then, without conducting an evidentiary
hearing, adopted the parenting plan attached to Mother's
petition, decreased Father's visitation time, and
increased his monthly child support obligation. Father filed
a motion to set aside the default judgment, which the trial
court treated as a motion to alter or amend the judgment, and
denied the motion. Father timely appealed. Because the trial
court's order does not contain sufficient findings
regarding the modification, we vacate the judgment and remand
for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Vacated and Remanded
Morgan, Sparta, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michael
Stewart. Cynthia S. Lyons, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the
appellee, Heather Kailoni Lawson (Stewart).
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Brandon O. Gibson and Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE
and Procedural History
Kailoni Lawson ("Mother, " or "Appellee")
and Michael Sherman Stewart ("Father, " or
"Appellant") were divorced in March 2009.
Concurrent with the divorce, the trial court entered a
permanent parenting plan for the parties' minor child.
The plan designated Mother as the primary residential parent,
awarded Father 109 days per year of parenting time, and set
Father's monthly child support obligation at $220.00.
April 18, 2016, Mother filed a petition to modify the
parties' parenting plan and attached a proposed parenting
plan to the petition. Therein, Mother alleged that a
modification of the current parenting plan was justified and
also requested that the court grant an increase in
Father's child support obligation. Father was served
with a copy of the petition on May 2, 2016; however, he
failed to timely answer. On July 1, 2016, Mother moved the
court to enter a default judgment against Father. On July 11,
2016, the trial court held a hearing on Mother's motion.
Father appeared at the hearing and requested additional time
to answer the petition. The trial court granted Father an
extension to file an answer until July 15, 2016 at 4:00 p.m.
Although Father retained an attorney on the day after the
hearing, he failed to communicate to his attorney the filing
deadline ordered by the trial court, and no answer was filed
by the deadline. As a result, on July 29, 2016, the trial
court entered a default judgment against Father, and without
conducting an evidentiary hearing, adopted Mother's
proposed parenting plan in toto, and increased
Father's child support obligation.
default order of the trial court provides, in its entirety,
1. Michael Sherman Stewart did not file an Answer to the
Petition to Modify Parenting Plan by July 15th,
2016, at 4:00 p.m.
2. A Default Order is hereby entered against Michael Sherman
3. The attached Permanent Parenting Plan is hereby approved
by this Court and is incorporated into and made a part of
this Order. This Parenting Plan is the same Parenting Plan
that was filed with the Petition to Modify Parenting Plan on
April 18l, 2016. This is the Parenting Plan that
Michael Sherman Stewart was served with a copy and the same
Parenting Plan that [Father] had notice would be entered
against him by Default, if he did not file an Answer to the
Petition to Modify.
4. The child support worksheets are attached to the Permanent
Parenting Plan and are hereby incorporated into and made a
part of the Permanent Parenting Plan and also a part of this
5. The child support worksheets reflect fifty-five (55) days
of visitation for Father and three hundred ten (310) days
visitation for Mother, as set forth in the Permanent
Parenting Plan filed with the Petition to Modify.
6. [Father] failed to answer the Interrogatories and Request
for Production of Documents filed against him in this case,
Said Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents
were an attempt to obtain current income information, so that
the most accurate child support worksheets could be drafted
and approved by the Court. Since [Father] did not answer said
interrogatories, the Court finds it is appropriate to impute
the income previously set forth in the Parenting Plan and
child support worksheets approved by this Court on March
6th, 2009. Said child support worksheets reflected
a monthly income for Father in the amount of $1, 972.45.
Since the Court is using Father's income from the
previous Order March 6th, 2009, the Court also
finds it appropriate to use the Mother's income from said
March 6th, 2009 Order. Therefore, the new child
support worksheets shall also reflect Mother's income at
$1, 200.00 per month, as previously ordered.
7. As set forth in the Petition to Modify, Father no longer
provides insurance for the minor child. Mother now provides
insurance for the child and she shall be given credit on the
child support worksheets for same. $318.89 shall be removed
from Father's column on the child support worksheets for
the child's portion of the health insurance premium.
Mother shall receive a credit of $130.76 in her column for
the child's portion of health insurance premium.
8. Father no longer pays child support for another child.
Therefore, any credit for another child on these new child
support worksheets has been removed.
9. The Father's current child support obligation shall be
$483.00 per month. The Petition to Modify was filed on April
18th, 2016, therefore, Father's new child
support obligation of $483.00 per month shall begin on May
1st, 2016 and shall continue to be due on the
first day of each and every month thereafter.
10. Father was previously ordered to pay $220.00 per month
beginning on November 1st, 2008. Father has failed
to make all payments as ordered. Father should have paid $19,
800.00 in child support from November 1st, 2008 to
April 30th, 2016 at $220.00 per month. Father
actually paid $16, 193.58, representing an arrearage of $3,
606.42. Father's child support obligation for May
1st, 2016 is $483.00. Father actually paid $55.00
during May 2016, representing an arrearage of $428.00.
11. Mother is granted a total judgment for child support
arrears in the amount of $4, 034.42, as of May
31st, 2016 ($3, 606.42 for the time period of
November 1st, 2008 to April 30th, 2016,
and $428.00 for May 2016). Father is ordered to pay $150.00
per month ...