Session August 15, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Cheatham County No. 16305 Larry
J. Wallace, Judge
case involves a post-divorce modification of a parenting
plan. The trial court found that there had been a material
change in circumstances since the entry of the parties'
existing parenting plan. Mother appeals the trial court's
modification of the parenting plan insofar as the trial court
did not adopt, in toto, her proposed plan. Father
appeals the trial court's finding that a material change
in circumstances occurred since entry of the parties'
existing parenting plan but argues, in the alternative, that
the trial court should be affirmed. Discerning no error, we
affirm and remand.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed and Remanded
Rhoton Clark, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Christen Nicole Pankratz.
R. Haude, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Dion
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
Pankratz ("Mother, " or "Appellant") and
Dion Pankratz ("Father, " or "Appellee")
are the parents of one minor child, born June 2011.
Concurrent with their divorce in January 2015, the trial
court entered a parenting plan for the child. The plan
designated Mother as the primary residential parent but gave
each parent equal parenting time. The parenting plan also
specified that Mother and Father would have joint
decision-making in the areas of education, non-emergency
health care, religion, and extracurricular activities. Father
has since married Kendra Pankratz ("Step-Mother").
December 11, 2015, Mother filed a petition to modify the
parenting plan by awarding her additional parenting time and
major decision-making authority in all four areas specified
in the parenting plan: education, non-emergency healthcare,
religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities.
grounds for her petition, Mother averred that the
parties' conflicting social and religious views
concerning the child's upbringing had led to ongoing
disagreements, and it would be in the best interest of the
child to be raised in a single environment. Mother, a
practicing Christian, alleged that, since the parties'
separation, Father had converted to Messianic
Judaism ("Father's Religion").
Following his conversion, Mother averred that Father had
expressed his belief to her that her religion was a form of
paganism and many of Mother's lifestyle decisions were
sinful. Mother further alleged that it was her understanding
that Father's religion prevents him from associating with
non-believers.Mother alleged that Father intended to
alienate her from the child and that Father regularly made
disparaging remarks to the child about Mother, her religion,
and her lifestyle choices. Mother believes Father's
behavior is causing the child to experience distress,
confusion, and anxiety.
January 28, 2016, Father answered Mother's petition and
filed a counter-petition to modify the parties' parenting
plan. The cross-petitions were heard by the Chancery Court
for Cheatham County on November 3, 2016. Both parties
presented evidence that they were experiencing ongoing
conflict with the other party due to their opposing views. As
part of her proof at trial, Mother proffered a recorded
conversation between her and Father illustrating the nature
of the parties' conflict:
Father [to Mother]: When you say you respect our
beliefs then you participate in things with (the child) like
carving a pumpkin, like putting on costumes, any of the stuff
that goes on in this place, actually is a stumbling block for
her and it breaks covenant. . . . What is
going to happen, and I am just forewarning you, for (the
child's) life, there is not going to be both of us, if
she decides to walk in covenant in obedience, and I hope that
she does for her life's sake, you will become estranged
to her, she will not look at you as a mother[.]
. . .
Father [to Mother] . . . She's trying hard to
make the two environments work and they don't-they are in
opposition to each other. And whether you like it or not, our
life is in contrast to your life.
testified that the aforementioned conversation clearly voiced
parties presented evidence illustrating their ongoing
disagreements relating to the child's non-emergency
healthcare, education, religion, and extra-curricular
activities. For example, Father does not believe in
vaccinations, while Mother is a registered nurse and believes
vaccinations are an important component of healthcare. Father
desires to homeschool the child, while Mother has enrolled
the child in public school. Father believes Christian and
secular holidays are sinful, Mother celebrates both.
December 7, 2016, the trial court entered its order, which
incorporated its ruling from the bench. In its order, the
trial court found that a material change of circumstances had
occurred since the parties' divorce based on increasing
conflict between the parents. After evaluating the statutory
factors in light of the evidence, the trial court found it
was in the child's best interest to modify the existing
parenting plan by: (1) effectively vesting educational and
non-emergency healthcare decision-making authority with
Mother; and (2) awarding Mother additional parenting time on
religious and secular holidays. The trial court also
emphasized that the parenting plan prohibits both parties
from making disparaging remarks about the other parent or
their lifestyle choices in the presence of the child.
parties present the following issues for review, which we
restate and reorder as follows:
I. Whether the trial court erred in finding a material change
II. Whether the trial court erred in finding that modifying
the parties' existing parenting plan is in the