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Dale v. Dale

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

December 20, 2019

STEVEN J. DALE
v.
SHARON K. BALL DALE

          Session December 3, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Williamson County No. 38640 Michael Binkley, Judge

         In this 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.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Jacob Thomas Thorington, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Sharon K. Ball Dale.

          C. Diane Crosier and Jill Marie Hudson, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Steven J. Dale.

          Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Richard H. Dinkins and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.

         In 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 obligation.

         While 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.

         Thereafter, 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;[1] 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         Standard ...


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