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In re Briley R.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 31, 2017


          Session September 5, 2017

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County No. 16-JV-59 Ray Grimes, Judge

         This appeal arises from the adoption of a permanent parenting plan and the determination of a father's child support obligation. The father argues that the juvenile court erred in both its fashioning of the parenting plan and its calculation of his child support obligation. Because the court made insufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law, we vacate and remand.

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

          Steven C. Girsky, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant,

          David R., Adrienne Gilliam Fry, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Megan R.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., joined.




         David R. ("Father") and Megan R. ("Mother") married on May 30, 2014, in Florida. They moved, along with Mother's son from a prior marriage, to Clarksville, Tennessee, due to Father's military service. The exact date of the move is not reflected in the record, but the parties moved into a house in Clarksville in May 2015. That same month, they welcomed their daughter, Briley R.

         In June 2015, Father left the army and began working as an over-the-road truck driver making approximately $700-900 per week. Mother stayed at home caring for the children.

         Perhaps foreshadowing events to come, in October 2015, a Florida court annulled the marriage between Father and Mother because, at the time of their marriage, Mother's divorce from her prior husband was not yet final. Sometime in mid-December 2015, Father left the home he shared with Mother and moved back to Florida to live with his parents. But he continued to pay the mortgage on the house, the car loan, utilities, and phone bills.

         On January 14, 2016, Mother filed a petition for legitimation in the Juvenile Court for Montgomery, Tennessee, seeking entry of a parenting plan and child support. Father filed an answer and counter-petition for custody. After a pre-trial hearing, the court ordered, among other things, Father to "continue to pay the regular bills he had been paying pending further order." The court also established a temporary parenting plan, directing each party to exchange the child just south of Atlanta, Georgia, every two weeks beginning on February 13, 2016.

         The juvenile court conducted a bench trial on April 1, 2016, which lasted less than two hours. Father, Mother, and Briley's pediatrician testified.

         According to Mother's testimony, Father abandoned the children and her without warning and left them with no means of support. She also claimed surprise that Father had quit his job. Mother did admit that Father continued to pay expenses after leaving and that he left some money in a joint check account. Mother also conceded that she was receiving child support from her former husband.

         Father disputed Mother's version of events, asserting that he left because the parties were already having problems. According to Father, Mother "knew it was coming, " and Mother "told [him] to leave on multiple . . . occasions."

         Father claimed to have quit his job as a truck driver because of his belief that he would never get custody of Briley unless he obtained a more stable job. His job kept him on the road and away from home seven to nine days at a time. He testified that he was compelled to move back in with his parents in Florida because he could not pay both the mortgage on the house and rent for an apartment in Clarksville.

         The parties entered into evidence various texts and Facebook messages. Generally, this evidence reflected poorly on both Father and Mother. Father also played for the court recordings of his interactions with Mother, but the recordings themselves were not introduced into evidence.

         The pediatrician testified briefly regarding her interactions with Briley and Mother. She expressed her opinion that Mother was "a very good . . . mom" and took proper care of Briley. But she acknowledged not knowing Mother well.

         The testimony related to child support was extremely limited. Mother testified she had been working as a part-time pharmacist technician for a little over a month, making $10 per hour and working between 10 to 15 hours per week. Father testified he worked full-time at an air conditioning company making $12 per hour.

         In an order entered on May 20, 2016, the juvenile court named Mother the primary residential parent and awarded her 267 days of parenting time. The court awarded Father 98 days. In support of its ruling, the court made the following findings of fact[1]:

1. That the Court has considered the factors in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-101 [sic];
2. That the factors enumerated in Tenn. Code Ann. ยง 36-6-101 [sic] weigh in ...

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