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In re Makinna B.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 5, 2019

IN RE MAKINNA B.

          May 8, 2019 Session

          Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County No. MC-JV-PL-CV-14-2179 Kenneth R. Goble, Judge

         This appeal involves a father's petition to modify an existing parenting plan to change the designation of primary residential parent from the mother to the father. After a hearing, the trial court agreed with the parties' stipulation that a material change in circumstances had occurred since the entry of the previous parenting plan due to various difficulties experienced by the parties and their lack of cooperation. The trial court concluded that it was in the best interest of the child to designate the father as primary residential parent. The trial court entered a modified parenting plan and child support worksheets. The mother appeals. We vacate and remand for further proceedings.

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

          Elizabeth A. Fendley, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Sarah B. (now Sarah W.).

          H. Reid Poland, III, Clarksville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Aaron S.

          Carma D. McGee, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny W. Armstrong, J., joined.

          OPINION

          CARMA D. McGEE, JUDGE

         I. Facts & Procedural History

         Makinna B.[1] was born to unmarried parents in April 2014. Shortly thereafter, Aaron S. ("Father") filed a petition to confirm parentage and establish a permanent parenting plan. The child's mother, Sarah B. ("Mother"), agreed that Father is the child's father. Father initially sought equal parenting time, but before the issue of parenting time was resolved, Father moved from Tennessee to St. Paul, Minnesota, to live with his father and further his education. In March 2016, the trial court entered an agreed order naming Mother primary residential parent and granting Father 74 days of parenting time per year.

         Nine months later, in December 2016, Father filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, alleging that a material change in circumstances had occurred due to Mother being unnecessarily difficult and antagonistic. Father claimed that Mother was impeding the bond between him and Makinna, and he asked the court to designate him as primary residential parent.

         Father and Mother attended mediation and agreed that a material change in circumstances had occurred requiring modification of the existing parenting plan. They could not agree as to which parent should be designated the primary residential parent, but they did agree on the parenting schedule that they would follow once the trial court designated the primary residential parent. They also agreed on the figures to be used for each parent's income in the child support calculation.

         The trial court held a hearing on December 14, 2017, to consider the disputed issue of which parent should be named the primary residential parent. By that time, Makinna was three years old. Mother was married and had another daughter, and she was pregnant with a third child. Father was living with his fiancée in Minnesota. The trial court heard testimony from Father, Mother, Mother's husband, the child's maternal grandmother, and the child's paternal grandmother. The trial court also received exhibits consisting of text messages between Mother and Father, and the court viewed a video of an incident that occurred at a custody exchange of the child.

         At the conclusion of the testimony, the trial judge announced his oral ruling in favor of Father. The trial court entered its written order in April 2018. The trial court concluded that it was in the best interest of Makinna to reside primarily with Father in Minnesota, with Mother having parenting time according to the schedule crafted by the parties at mediation. The written order referenced an attached parenting plan, but it was inadvertently omitted when the order was filed.

         On May 1, 2018, the trial court entered an amended order noting that its prior order failed to include the necessary parenting plan and child support worksheet. The amended order had a parenting plan and child support worksheet attached. The parenting plan stated that Mother's child support obligation from January to March 2018 (the three-month period following the December 2017 hearing) was $248 per month. However, the parenting plan stated that Mother's child support obligation had increased to $403 per month beginning April 1, 2018. It explained, "The daycare expense is a recent development[.]" The attached child support worksheet included an expense of $1, 009 per month for Father for work-related childcare, which led to the increase in Mother's child support obligation. Mother timely filed a notice of appeal.

         II. Issues Presented

         Mother presents the following issues, which we have slightly reworded, for review on appeal:

1. Whether the order of the trial court should be vacated for failure to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law;
2. Whether the trial court provided only a pretextual consideration of the best interest factors when designating Father as ...

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