Allegations of domestic violence or abuse are serious, especially in divorce and child custody cases. A March 1, 2018 decision from the Tennessee Court of Appeals reveals some of the legal considerations and issues that may be involved. The parties in the case had one child together during their marriage. After a trial, the court declared the parties divorced and entered a final order designating the father as the primary residential parent. On appeal, the mother contended that the trial court failed to properly consider the father’s history of domestic violence and abuse against her.
In Tennessee, the final order in a divorce action must incorporate a permanent parenting plan for the parties’ minor children, including a residential schedule and designation of a primary residential parent. In developing the plan, the trial court must consider certain statutory factors and any relevant statute. In particular, TCA 36-6-406(a)(2) provides that a parent’s residential time must be limited if the court finds, based upon a prior order or other reliable evidence, that the parent has engaged in physical or sexual abuse, or a pattern of emotional abuse, of a parent, child, or other person living in the household.
In the case, the trial court found that the father committed domestic violence against the mother. Although the incidents were not reported to the police, they were corroborated by the testimony of several witnesses, who stated that they saw the mother’s bruises, black eyes, and busted lip. The court also considered the fact that the mother had once left the child in a hot car and was currently living with a man who had been convicted of a felony, among other considerations. Ultimately, the trial court found that while it was greatly concerned with placing a child with a man who had engaged in physical abuse, under the totality of the circumstances, it was in the child’s best interest that his father be designated as the primary residential parent.