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In re Carter K.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 14, 2018

IN RE CARTER K.

          Assigned on Briefs January 3, 2018

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County No. 16-JV-1593 Kenneth R. Goble, Judge.

         This appeal involves a custody dispute between the unmarried parents of a minor child. Mother filed a petition in the juvenile court seeking custody of the minor child, a determination of Father's child support arrearage, the establishment of a child support order, the entry of a permanent parenting plan, and an award of attorney's fees. Mother also sought a temporary restraining order preventing Father from removing the child from her care, custody, and control. Following several pre-trial hearings, the case proceeded to trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the juvenile court awarded visitation to Father. Within days of the trial, Mother filed a motion to vacate the juvenile court's ruling based on Mother's allegation that Father had perjured himself at the trial. Following a hearing at which Father failed to appear, the juvenile court suspended Father's visitation, and in a reversal of the its prior decision, ordered Father to pay all of Mother's attorney's fees incurred throughout the proceedings. Because we find that the juvenile court's orders fail to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01 such that we are unable to determine the basis for the juvenile court's decisions, we vacate the court's orders pertaining to the establishment of a permanent parenting plan, the suspension of Father's parenting time, and attorney's fees, and we remand for more detailed findings of facts and conclusions of law.

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

          James R. Potter, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Ted K.

          Gregory D. Smith, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Whitney C.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case involves a custody dispute between the unmarried biological parents of Carter K.[1] ("the child"). On December 2, 2016, Whitney C. ("Mother") filed a "Petition for Restraining Order, Implementation of Parenting Plan, and to Establish Child Support" in the juvenile court for Montgomery County against Ted K. ("Father").[2]

         In the petition, Mother asked that the juvenile court enter a restraining order prohibiting Father from removing the minor child from her care, custody, and control pending further orders of the court because Father had repeatedly threatened to take the child and flee out of Tennessee. The petition averred that Father's girlfriend, Vanessa D. ("Girlfriend"), had recently attempted suicide and engaged in violence in the presence of Father and both of Girlfriend's own children. Among other allegations, Mother's petition also averred that Father and Girlfriend possessed illegal drugs, and that both had repeatedly threatened Mother over the phone using extreme profanity. In addition to the restraining order, Mother sought child support arrears, an order setting future child support, the entry of a permanent parenting plan naming her as the primary residential parent, and an award of her attorney's fees.

         On December 5, 2016, the juvenile court issued a restraining order temporarily prohibiting Father from "removing the minor child … from the care, custody and control of his Mother." A show cause hearing on the restraining order was set for January 6, 2017.

         On January 3, 2017, Father filed an answer to Mother's petition, a motion to dismiss the restraining order, and a counter-complaint asking the juvenile court to award him custody of the minor child and child support. Following the hearing on January 6, 2017, the juvenile court entered an order on January 20, 2017, keeping the "restraining order" in effect pending further orders of the court. In its order of January 20, 2017, denying Father's motion to dismiss the restraining order, the juvenile court made a finding that Father "has no credibility before this Court based upon his untruthful testimony[.]"

         On January 9, 2017, Father filed a "Motion for Supervised Visitation, " which Mother opposed. By order of February 17, 2017, the juvenile court denied Father's motion for temporary visitation, and again found that Father "continues to have no credibility before [the juvenile court] based upon his untruthful testimony."[3]

         On March 31, 2017, Father filed a "Motion for Pendente Lite Visitation, " which Mother also opposed. Following a hearing, by order of May 10, 2017, the juvenile court again denied Father's motion for temporary visitation.

         Both parents submitted parenting plans, and the case went to trial before the juvenile court on June 1, 2017.

         Mother testified that she had received repeated threats from Girlfriend, and that Girlfriend had repeatedly posted defamatory comments about Mother on social media. Mother testified that Girlfriend's threats and comments have caused her to become fearful of Girlfriend, and that Girlfriend's behavior has caused Mother to conclude that Girlfriend threatens the well-being of her and the minor child.

         Father testified at the trial that he was no longer in a relationship with Girlfriend. Specifically, the following exchange occurred at trial:

Q: [Father's attorney] There's been a lot of talk about [Girlfriend]. [Girlfriend] was your girlfriend?
A: [Father] Correct.
Q: [Father's attorney] What is you-all's relationship status now?
A: [Father] I am single.
Q: [Father's attorney] Who ended it?
A: [Father] It was mutual. This whole ordeal was-
Q: [The Court] He's single. Does that mean he's had a ...

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