Child custody battles can become contentious, particularly when one of the parties is unwilling to compromise. Things generally get even more complicated when parent refuses to comply with the court-approved Tennessee parenting plan. What options does the other parent have?
Divorcing parents in Tennessee must attend a four-hour parenting class and file a parenting plan with the court. If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they must attend mediation and make a good faith attempt to come to an agreement before the court will consider their divorce case.
When parents remain unable to agree on custody arrangements for their children, Tennessee courts will intervene and issue a permanent parenting plan (PPP). The PPP is a detailed, written outline establishing each parent’s parenting time (also known as residential time), right to make decisions for the child, and child support obligations. Parenting plans also establish where the children will live and how they will be transported between the parents.
Under Tennessee law, the parents must follow the PPP, and if they do not, they can be held in contempt of court. Some serious PPP violations that might warrant getting the court involved include:
- Frequent noncompliance with visitation changes
- A chronic pattern of picking up or returning the children early or late
- Interfering with the other parent’s visitation time
- Failing to take the children to school, the doctor, or to court-ordered counseling appointments
- Abusing drugs or alcohol in the presence of the children
If you are dealing with a parent who refuses to follow the court-ordered parenting plan, you should document the violations by creating a list or calendar that shows when the other parent failed to comply with the PPP. You should also keep copies of police reports and other documents, including emails, phone records, and any messages received from that parent which indicate that they are not going to follow the plan.
If your motivation for filing a motion for contempt is to get back at your ex-spouse, you should ask yourself a series of questions before moving forward:
- Can I negotiate with the other parent first to encourage them to comply with the plan?
- Would modifying the current agreement be the best option for everyone involved?
- Could a friend, family member, or professional mediator help to remedy the situation and potentially create a new plan?
- Should I seek the advice of a Knoxville child custody attorney who has experience with parenting plan disputes?
It’s also important to remember that in the absence of a PPP, the police or the courts cannot enforce your custody arrangement unless you believe that the child is in imminent danger. If that is the case, you should immediately call the local police or child abduction unit at the Knox County District Attorney’s office.
What does it mean to hold someone in contempt of court?
When you formally request that a judge hold the other parent in contempt, you are asking them to enforce or modify your PPP and to find that the other parent committed a crime: purposefully disobeying a court order.
To obtain a finding of contempt, a parent must typically file a document called a Motion for an Order to Show Cause, which requires the parent who is not following the PPP to explain to the court why they should not be held in contempt. If custody or visitation is denied or interfered with by a parent without good cause, the other parent could also file a Motion for Family Access Order that outlines the specifics of the violation. The noncompliant parent will be served with the motion, along with a summons to appear in court.
In response to either a family access motion or a motion for contempt, the court will consider the evidence and if it finds that the court-ordered plan has not been complied with, it will issue a remedy that might include requiring the noncompliant parent to:
- Provide compensatory visitation time
- Participate in counseling designed to educate them regarding the importance of providing the child with continuing and meaningful contact with both parents
- Pay a fine of up to $500 to the other parent
- Post bond or security ensuring future compliance with the PPP
- Pay the cost of counseling to reestablish the relationship between the child and the other parent
A finding of contempt can have severe consequences, including hefty fines or jail time. Before you move forward, you should carefully consider whether pursuing an action for contempt will be in the best interests of your children in the long term and obtain competent legal advice.
Modifying the parenting plan
If a PPP is not working for one or both parents, but you would rather not pursue contempt, the plan can be revised due to a “material change in circumstances” of the child’s life. Circumstances that might prompt a revision include:
- Age-related changes
- Changes in the parents’ living or working situation
- Either parent’s failure to follow the plan
Once a material change is established, the court will generally create a new parenting plan that better suits the interests of the child. Unless you pursue your complaint in criminal court, the judge will likely pursue one or more of the following options:
- Reaffirm or modify the parenting plan
- Change which parent maintains physical or legal custody, if necessary
- Give the compliant parent extra visitation days to make up for the time they lost with the children due to the other parent’s noncompliance
- Require the noncompliant parent to pay the other parent’s court costs and legal fees
Unless the violations happen repeatedly or put the children in danger, it’s likely that the judge will reaffirm or adjust the custody order before issuing a contempt finding.
A Tennessee family law attorney experienced with child custody disputes will be able to review your parenting plan, evaluate the situation, and advise you as to whether you should file a petition for contempt in court. Are you and your ex-spouse having issues regarding your parenting plan? The Knoxville family law attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter have experience assisting families who are experiencing child custody disputes. Call us at (865) 637-6258, or complete our contact form and schedule an initial consultation today.
Patrick Slaughter is an experienced Knoxville attorney passionate about helping families resolve legal issues including divorce, family law matters and immigration. Patrick graduated from Lincoln Memorial University – Duncan School of Law, summa cum laude and is a published author. Patrick is a member of the Knoxville Bar Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association. Contact Patrick Slaughter at (865) 637-6258 or by filling out a case evaluation below.
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