You are entitled to due process of law in matters concerning your right to parent your children. This generally means that before you can be deprived of your parenting rights, you must be allowed a meaningful opportunity to object. In a recent case involving a Tennessee child custody dispute, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed whether a father was unfairly restricted by a Permanent Parenting Plan ordered by the trial court without any evidentiary hearing.
The parties in the case had two children born during their marriage and were in the process of divorce. A hearing was held before the trial court on the matter of the Final Decree of Divorce and the Permanent Parenting Plan, during which it was revealed that the father was in a relationship with a man. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court modified the Final Decree of Divorce with handwritten injunctions, some of which applied only to the father. Specifically, the restrictions prohibited the father from having dating partners around the children at any time and also prohibited homosexual activity around the children.
On appeal, the issue for the court was whether the father was deprived of due process by not being afforded a meaningful evidentiary hearing before substantive changes were made to the agreed-upon Final Decree of Divorce and Permanent Parenting Plan. The court concluded that the injunctions restrained the father’s liberty under both the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution, which thus provide that the government may not deprive an individual of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The court also explained that due process requires appropriate notice in order to afford the litigant the opportunity to be prepared to present evidence in addition to the opportunity for a meaningful hearing. Accordingly, the court ruled that the parties should have been provided notice before imposing generalized “paramour” and “lifestyle” restrictions so that they could be prepared to present evidence on the issue.