After a divorce has been finalized, a change in circumstances may cause new and unexpected disputes between the ex-spouses. An October 25, 2017 case involving a post-divorce modification of a parenting plan illustrates the issues that may arise following major lifestyle changes. The case came before the Court of Appeals of Tennessee after the trial court found a material change in circumstances existed and modified the parties’ existing parenting plan. The mother appealed insofar as the trial court did not completely adopt her proposed plan, and the father argued there was no material change in circumstances.
The parents in the case had one child during their marriage. Their original parenting plan designated the mother as the primary residential parent but gave each parent equal parenting time and joint decision-making in the areas of education, non-emergency health care, religion, and extracurricular activities. The mother subsequently filed a petition to modify the parenting plan shortly after the father had converted to Messianic Judaism. The mother, a practicing Christian, alleged that their conflicting social and religious views concerning the child’s upbringing had led to ongoing disagreements regarding vaccinations, education, secular holidays, and other subjects. The court awarded educational and non-emergency health care decision-making authority to the mother, as well as additional parenting time on religious and secular holidays.
In Tennessee, to modify a parenting plan, the court must first determine whether there has been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the existing parenting plan. Secondly, the court applies statutorily enumerated factors to determine whether a modification of the parenting plan is in the best interest of the child.