Assigned on Briefs April 1, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Crockett County No. 10090 George
R. Ellis, Chancellor
trial court designated Father primary residential parent of
the parties' minor child, and adopted Father's
proposed parenting plan. Mother appeals. Because we conclude
that the trial court's order regarding the designation of
the child's primary residential parent does not contain
sufficient findings of fact such that meaningful appellate
review is possible, we vacate the order of the trial court
and remand for further proceedings.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Vacated and Remanded
Michael Casey, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellant, Nicole
D. Sipes, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellee, William
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Andy D. Bennett,
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
a child custody dispute. The parties at issue, William
Michael Grissom ("Father") and Nicole Xiomara
Grissom ("Mother") married on September 24, 2012,
and have one minor child together ("the Child").
The child was born in 2012. Father filed for divorce on July
11, 2016, in the Chancery Court for Crockett County
("trial court"); therein, Father alleged that the
parties separated in January of 2016 and that Mother had
since moved to Mississippi. The complaint for divorce further
provided that the parties had been exercising parenting time
by alternating weeks with the child but that this arrangement
was no longer feasible. Father alleged that the living
conditions in Mother's new home were not suitable for the
Child and requested that the trial court issue an emergency
custody order naming Father the primary residential parent
and allowing Mother parenting time every other weekend. While
Father's request for ex parte relief was denied, the
trial court set the matter for hearing and on August 24,
2016, entered an order naming Father primary residential
parent and approving the temporary parenting plan proposed by
parties eventually settled all of the issues surrounding
their divorce aside from the matter of custody of the Child.
As such, the matter was set for trial on June 20, 2018. The
trial court heard testimony from the parties, Mother's
boyfriend, the maternal grandmother, Father's sister, and
various other family members and friends. Overall, the
testimony at trial reflected that the Child is happy,
well-adjusted, and has a strong relationship with both
parents. Mother and Father both confirmed that the Child has
a loving relationship with each of them, and they agreed that
it is best for the Child to maintain a strong bond with both
parents. The parties disputed, however, who was better suited
to be the primary caregiver of the Child, in light of various
factors such as the parties' work schedules and
continuity in the Child's current schedule. For example,
Father was adamant that because he had acted as the primary
residential parent for nearly two years leading up to the
hearing, it was best for the Child to remain in her current
routine. Mother, on the other hand, pointed out that
Father's work hours are far more irregular than
Mother's are and that the Child is often cared for by
Father's family while Father is at work. As such, Mother
maintained that because she has a more regular 7:30 a.m. to
4:00 p.m. work schedule, the Child would be able to spend
more time in the care of an actual parent if the trial court
designated Mother primary residential parent.
close of proof, the trial court concluded that it was in the
best interests of the Child to name Father primary
residential parent and to approve Father's proposed plan.
Under this plan, Father has 285 days of parenting time, while
Mother spends every other weekend with the Child for a total
of 80 days. The trial court stated, without any further
explanation, that it had considered the statutory best
interest factors and that by its calculation, the allocation
of the factors was "[t]en for the father and three for
the mother." A written order reiterating this finding
was entered July 30, 2018.
thereafter filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court.
raises the following issues on appeal, which have been taken
from her brief and slightly restated:
1. Whether the trial court erred in designating Father as the
child's primary residential parent.
2.Whether the trial court erred in adopting Father's
proposed parenting plan.
3.Whether the trial court erred in ordering Mother to pay the
court costs incurred in this matter.
this case was tried by the court sitting without a jury, our
review is de novo upon the record with a presumption that the
findings of fact are correct unless the evidence
preponderates otherwise. Kendrick v. Shoemake, 90
S.W.3d 566, 570 (Tenn. 2002); Hass v. Knighton, 676
S.W.2d 554, 555 (Tenn. 1984); Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d). We
review the legal conclusions of the trial court de novo with
no such presumption of correctness. Chaffin v.
Ellis, 211 S.W.3d 264, 285 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006). In
weighing the preponderance of the evidence, the trial
court's findings of fact that are based on witness
credibility are given great weight, and they will not be
overturned absent clear and convincing evidence to the
contrary. In re Adoption of A.M.H., 215 S.W.3d 793,
809 (Tenn. 2002); see also Reeder v. Reeder, 375
S.W.3d 268, 278-79 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012) (citing
Adelsperger v. Adelsperger, 970 S.W.2d 482, 485
(Tenn. Ct. App. 1997)) ("Decisions concerning custody
and visitation often hinge on subtle factors, such as the
parents' demeanor and credibility during the
first address Mother's argument that the trial court
erred in naming Father the primary residential parent.
Decisions involving the custody of a child are among the most
important decisions faced by the courts. Steen v.
Steen, 61 S.W.3d 324, 327 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). Indeed,
"[b]y statute as well as case law, the welfare and best
interests of the child are the paramount concern in custody,
visitation, and residential placement determinations, and the
goal of any such decision is to place the child in an
environment that will best serve his or her needs."
Burden v. Burden, 250 S.W.3d 899, 908 (Tenn. Ct.
App. 2007) (quoting Cummings v. Cummings, No.
M2003-00086-COA-R3-CV, 2004 WL 2346000, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App.
Oct. 15, 2004)). As such, "[t]rial courts have broad
discretion to fashion custody and visitation arrangements
that best suit the unique circumstances of each case, and the
appellate courts are reluctant to second-guess a trial
court's determination regarding custody and
visitation." Reeder, 375 S.W.3d at 278 (citing
Parker v. Parker, 986 S.W.2d 557, 563 (Tenn. 1999));
see also C.W.H. v. L.A.S., 538 S.W.3d 488, 495
(Tenn. 2017) (quoting Armbrister v. Armbrister, 414
S.W.3d 685, 693 (Tenn. 2013)) ("[D]etermining the
details of parenting plans is peculiarly within the broad
discretion of the trial judge.").
trial courts are afforded broad discretion in this area,
"they still must base their decisions on the proof and
upon the appropriate application of the applicable principles
of law." Gaskill v. Gaskill, 936 S.W.2d 626,
631 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996) (citing D. v. K., 917
S.W.2d 682, 685 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995)). Thus, a trial
court's decision regarding custody will be set aside only
if it "falls outside the spectrum of rulings that might
reasonably result from an application of the correct legal
standards to the evidence found in the record." In
re Adoption of A.M.H., 215 S.W.3d at 809.
court's broad discretion on custody matters extends to
the question of which parent should be named primary
residential parent. See Kathryne B.F. v. Michael David
B., No. W2014-01863-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 4366311, at *8
(Tenn. Ct. App. July 16, 2015) (quoting In re Shayla
H., No. M2013-00567-COA-R3-JV, 2014 WL 2601564, at *5
(Tenn. Ct. App. June 9, 2014)) ("'[T]rial courts
have broad discretion in determining which parent should be
the primary residential parent[.]'"). "Thus,
'the ultimate question as to who should be the primary
residential parent on appeal is whether the trial court
abused its discretion in its selection.'"
Id. (quoting Maupin v. Maupin, 420 S.W.3d
761, 770 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013)). "In choosing which
parent to designate as the primary residential parent for the
child, the court must conduct a 'comparative fitness'
analysis, requiring the court to determine which of the
available parents would be comparatively more fit than the
other." Chaffin, 211 S.W.3d at 286 (citing
Bah v. Bah, 668 S.W.2d 663, 666 (Tenn. 1983)).
"In engaging in this analysis, the court must consider
the factors set out in Tennessee Code Annotated §
36-6-106(a)." Id. (footnote omitted).
factors provided in section 36-6-106(a) are as follows:
(1) The strength, nature, and stability of the child's
relationship with each parent, including whether one (1)
parent has performed the majority of parenting
responsibilities relating to the daily needs of the child;
(2) Each parent's or caregiver's past and potential
for future performance of parenting responsibilities,
including the willingness and ability of each of the parents
and caregivers to facilitate and encourage a close and
continuing parent-child relationship between the child and
both of the child's parents, consistent with the best
interest of the child. In determining the willingness of each
of the parents and caregivers to facilitate and encourage a
close and continuing parent-child relationship between the
child and both of the child's parents, the court shall
consider the likelihood of each parent and caregiver to honor
and facilitate court ordered parenting ...