STEVEN J. DALE
SHARON K. BALL DALE
Session December 3, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Williamson County No. 38640
Michael Binkley, Judge
post-divorce matter, the mother appeals the award of attorney
fees to the father, who prevailed in his opposition to the
mother's request to relocate out of state. The mother
gave notice to the father that she wanted to move to Arizona
while the parties' competing petitions to modify the
parenting plan were pending. The trial court denied the
mother's request to relocate and awarded attorney fees to
the father as the prevailing party in the relocation matter.
As for the petitions to modify the parenting plan, the court
ruled that the mother was the prevailing party and awarded to
the mother the attorney fees she incurred in the modification
matter. The mother appeals contending she should have been
awarded fees in both matters as the "overall"
prevailing party. Alternatively, the mother contends the
trial court erred by awarding the father attorney fees solely
on the basis he was the prevailing party in the relocation
matter. Having found the trial court identified and properly
applied the most applicable legal principles and that the
award of attorney fees to the father was within the range of
acceptable alternative dispositions, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Thomas Thorington, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Sharon K. Ball Dale.
Diane Crosier and Jill Marie Hudson, Franklin, Tennessee, for
the appellee, Steven J. Dale.
G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which Richard H. Dinkins and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ.,
G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.
2011, Steven J. Dale ("Father") and Sharon K. Ball
Dale ("Mother") divorced and entered into a
permanent parenting plan for their three children. In the
fall of 2014, Father and Mother each filed petitions to
modify the parenting plan. Each petition sought an increase
in residential parenting time and an award of attorney fees.
Mother also sought an increase to Father's child support
the petitions to modify the parenting plan were still
pending, Mother gave notice to Father that she wanted to move
to Arizona. Father filed a petition in opposition to the
proposed relocation. Following a hearing in July 2016, the
trial court denied Mother's request to relocate upon the
findings that Mother did not have a reasonable purpose for
relocating, and the relocation would not be in the
children's best interests. The court reasoned that Mother
and Father were already experiencing difficulty co-parenting
the children, and the move would worsen the conflict. The
issue of attorney fees was reserved.
the petitions to modify the parenting plan were tried and, in
July 2017, the trial court ruled on all remaining issues
except for attorney fees. The court found that the
parties' inability to communicate and share
decision-making authority was a material change in
circumstances negatively affecting the children. Therefore,
the court modified the parenting plan to (1) give Mother sole
decision-making authority; (2) increase Father's child
support obligation to $2, 426 per month; (3) eliminate
Father's residential parenting time with the parties'
daughter; and (4) increase Father's residential
time with their son from 90 to 161 days per year. The court
applied the child support increase retroactively, resulting
in a judgment against Father for $24, 600. The court also
awarded Mother $10, 512 for Father's willful failure to
produce his income tax returns.
only issue remaining was the competing claims for attorney
fees in both the relocation matter and the modification of
the parenting plan. In an order entered in October 2018, the
court awarded attorney fees of $26, 747 to Father as the
"prevailing party" in the relocation matter and
$31, 428.75 to Mother as the "prevailing party" in
the modification matter. This appeal followed.
only issues in this appeal pertain to attorney fees. Mother
contends the trial court erred by granting separate awards of
attorney fees and by only considering who prevailed in each
matter and both parties requests attorney fees on appeal.