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In re McKenzie Z.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 27, 2018

In re McKENZIE Z.

          Session Date: November 8, 2017

          Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 202577 Sheila Calloway, Judge

         Unmarried father filed a petition to establish parentage and a residential parenting schedule. After father's parentage was established, the juvenile court set a residential parenting schedule that awarded equal parenting time and ordered the child's surname changed to a hyphenated version of both parents' surnames. Mother appealed, arguing that the court erred in fashioning the parenting schedule and in ordering a change of the child's surname. Upon review, we affirm the residential parenting schedule but vacate that portion of the order directing a change in the child's surname.

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

          C. Diane Crosier and Jill Hudson, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Laura Z.

          Paul W. Moser (on appeal), Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Kason P.

          Thomas H. Miller, Nashville, Tennessee, Guardian ad Litem.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Thomas R. Frierson II, J., joined.

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE

         I.

         A.

         McKenzie was born to Laura Z. ("Mother"), a single mother, in 2008. In September 2014, Mother notified Kason P. ("Father") that he might be McKenzie's father, and paternity was subsequently confirmed.[1] Mother arranged some joint outings for Father and daughter to get acquainted, and Father began attending McKenzie's extracurricular activities. A few months later, McKenzie had two overnight visits at Father's home, where she was introduced to his family. The new relationship progressed smoothly until mid-January 2015, when Mother and Father had a heated dispute over the logistics of an overnight visit. After that, Mother refused to allow unsupervised visitation.

         Father filed a petition to establish parentage and set a residential schedule in the Juvenile Court for Davidson County, Tennessee.[2] He asked the court to declare him McKenzie's legal father, name him the primary residential parent, and change McKenzie's surname to a hyphenated version of both Father's and Mother's surnames.

         After receiving the results of court-ordered paternity testing, the juvenile court magistrate declared Father to be McKenzie's legal father. The magistrate reserved the issue of child support for a later date and referred the parties to mediation with instructions to "work out visitation."

         Mediation proved unsuccessful, and in November 2015, the magistrate awarded Father a limited amount of temporary parenting time. Over the course of the next few months, despite Mother's continued objections, the magistrate gradually increased the amount of Father's parenting time to every Thursday after school until Sunday at 6 p.m. On more than one occasion, the magistrate urged the parents to establish their own visitation schedule. But they were unable to agree.

         In January 2016, the magistrate named Mother primary residential parent and set a permanent residential parenting schedule. Under the magistrate's plan, the temporary parenting schedule remained in place for the first three weeks. Then, for the next six months, the parents were to exchange custody weekly. Thereafter, custody would be exchanged on a monthly basis with the non-residential parent having additional parenting time every other weekend during the month. The magistrate also set a corresponding amount of child support.

         B.

         Mother requested a de novo hearing by the judge of the juvenile court. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-107(d) (Supp. 2017). The hearing took place over two separate days. And multiple witnesses testified, including Mother, Father, and Dr. Jay Woodman, a clinical psychologist. At the time of the hearing, McKenzie was seven years old.

         Father first met McKenzie when she was five. He claimed he was unaware that McKenzie was his daughter until Mother contacted him in September 2014.[3] Delighted by the news, Father wanted to spend as much time with McKenzie as possible. He also voluntarily began paying child support.

         Father lived with his wife, their three-year-old daughter, and his wife's ten-year-old son from a previous relationship. Father maintained that his family loved McKenzie and that McKenzie had developed a good relationship with her new siblings and stepmother. He also introduced McKenzie to his parents and other extended family.

         Although Father's wife cared for McKenzie while he worked, Father was an active parent. Father agreed that McKenzie spent a considerable amount of time playing at home with her new siblings. He explained that, as a father of three, he could not afford a large number of outside activities.

         Father admitted that he and Mother had different parenting styles. But he claimed he provided needed structure in McKenzie's life. While moving from a home where she was the center of attention to one in which she had to share the spotlight with two siblings required some adjustment, Father maintained that McKenzie had successfully acclimated to the new environment. He acknowledged that initially she had difficulty sleeping and cried at times. But now, "[i]t's getting way better, period, because I think she's understanding the transition."

         Father's wife agreed that McKenzie had adapted to living in their home and confirmed that Father was actively involved in parenting all three children. She also expressed a willingness to work with Mother on any parenting issues.

         The paternal grandmother told the court about her growing relationship with McKenzie. She explained that McKenzie was initially unwilling to spend the night at her house, but over time had become more comfortable with overnight visits and large family gatherings.

         Mother told a different story. She had raised McKenzie as a single mother, and they were very close. At the time of the hearing, they lived with Mother's parents. As Mother described it, McKenzie enjoyed a strong, stable family environment with Mother and the maternal grandparents. Mother maintained that ...


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