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Cantey v. Cantey

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

July 9, 2019


          Session June 19, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Gibson County No. 22159 George R. Ellis, Chancellor

         This appeal involves a petition to modify an agreed permanent parenting plan. The trial court denied the petition. We conclude that the trial court's order does not contain sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law. We vacate the order of the trial court and remand for entry of an appropriate order.

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

          G. Michael Casey, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellant, Alyson Lindsay Cantey (Violette).

          Michael R. Hill, Milan, Tennessee, for the appellee, Larry Daniel Cantey.

          Carma D. McGee, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.


          CARMA D. McGEE, JUDGE

         I. Facts &Procedural History

         Alyson Lindsay Cantey (Violette) ("Mother") and Larry Daniel Cantey ("Father") divorced in September 2016. Together, they have two minor children, a daughter ("Daughter") and a son ("Son"). At the time of the divorce, the parties executed a marital dissolution agreement and an agreed permanent parenting plan, which designated Mother as the primary residential parent. However, Mother and Father enjoyed equal parenting time with the children. All major decisions required joint agreement of the parents, and mediation was the anticipated means of resolution to any impasse.

         When the parenting plan was entered, Mother and Father resided in Milan, Tennessee. Following the divorce, Mother and Father both remarried, and Mother moved to Medina, Tennessee. Daughter is disabled and is enrolled in the special education program at Milan Middle School. Neither parent desires to make any changes in Daughter's schooling. Son, at the time of the divorce, was not yet enrolled in elementary school.

         On March 19, 2018, Mother filed a petition to modify the existing permanent parenting plan due to an alleged material change of circumstance.[1] Mother filed a new proposed parenting plan seeking to modify several provisions, including the parties' joint educational decision-making authority. Alternatively, if her petition was denied, Mother sought the authority to enroll Son in school at Medina Elementary School. Mother relied primarily on her designation as primary residential parent to justify her claimed right to make this decision.

         On April 20, 2018, Father filed a response to Mother's petition (but no counter-petition), denying that a material change of circumstance existed to change the parties' joint decision-making. However, Father acknowledged that the parties had not been following the existing parenting plan and agreed to revise the residential schedule and child support provisions. Father attached to his response a proposed permanent parenting plan, asserting that his plan accurately reflected the modifications to which the parties informally agreed in the fall of 2017, except for the issue of Son's schooling. The parties attempted to mediate the issues but were unsuccessful.

         On June 6, 2019, the trial court conducted a hearing on Mother's petition and heard testimony from each party. At trial, both parties submitted competing parenting plans that modified the terms of their original plan. The testimony of each party largely centered on the issue of the appropriate school for Son, which remained in dispute. Mother testified that it is in the children's best interest to be in separate school districts, based on their educational goals and circumstances. She believed that Milan Elementary School was meeting the needs of Daughter and was the best school for Daughter. However, she believed that it was in Son's best interest to attend Medina Elementary School. She described Son as being very bright. She testified that he, at age five, already knew the periodic table of elements and different language. Her selection of Medina Elementary School was based on her research comparing it and Milan Elementary School. She testified that Medina Elementary was globally higher on all test scores than Milan Elementary.[2] Mother further testified to additional modifications she requested in the existing parenting plan, including altering the residential parenting time to a week-to-week schedule; allowing the children to be in her care on "school-free" days; and removing the special provisions in the existing plan. Alternatively, in the event the court did not modify the existing plan, Mother believed as the primary residential parent she should be allowed to make the final decision regarding Son's education.

         Father testified that he did not believe that it was in the best interest of the children to attend separate schools. He agreed that Milan Elementary School was the best school for Daughter and believed that school was appropriate for Son based on the services provided to Daughter. He also testified that Son had been involved in extracurricular activities in Milan and developed relationships with other children from Milan. Father indicated his strong preference for Milan Elementary School was based on his philosophy that education was not just about academic success, but also moral upbringing. Father expressed concerns that if the children attend different schools, Son will develop an idea of being separate from his sister.

         At the conclusion of the testimony, the trial judge announced his oral ruling denying Mother's petition. The court entered the following order on July 3, 2018:

This Cause, came to be heard on the 6th day of June, 2018, before the Honorable Chancellor George R. Ellis in the Chancery Court of Gibson County, Tennessee upon the Defendant's Motion to Modify Permanent Parenting Plan, Plaintiff's Response, and statements of the parties made in open Court, from all of which the Court finds as follows:
1. The Court finds that the parties contracted a permanent parenting plan upon their divorce on September 19, 2016.
2. Mother, Alyson Lindsay Cantey Violette, urges the Court that materially substantial changes in circumstances have ...

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