A case came out yesterday from the Court of Appeals that really provides a great example of how interference and inability to coparent will come back to haunt you, with the Court of Appeals ordering primary care to the non-offending parent. The case Wilson v. Phillips does a good job of laying out what evidence in a custody trial looks like and some of the stupid things parents do that cost them custody and damage their kids. It is a great example of what will happen if you decide to play cutesy games with the statutory rights of parents and parenting time. Clients sometimes seem to believe that if they are primary, that means they are the boss all the time and everything is going to be how they want it to be because they are the primary parent. That is not what primary care means in Tennessee and doing things how you want will result in a change in custody at a trial.
Here, in my opinion, are the five stupidest mistakes the father made in the Wilson case that caused him to lose custody of the kids:
- He didn’t follow joint decision making and unilaterally made decisions regarding extracurricular activities and medicals and in fact went so far as to list the stepmother on medical and school papers as mother and then left the actual mother off all of the released, forms, and emergency contacts. He then withheld the children from the mother in favor of the stepmother, including during serious medical procedures
- He interfered with telephone calls and withheld telephonic and Facetime access from mother and forced the children, aged 11 and 13, to have calls on speakerphone
- He deprived mother the ability to assist with the care and transportation of the children when he and stepmother were not available in favor of third parties
- Played petty stupid games like not allowing children to take their eye glasses with them to their mother’s home for parenting time
- TOLD THE CHILDREN ABOUT LITIGATION AND THAT THE CUSTODY PETITION WAS THEIR FAULT AND IF THEY DIDN’T STOP TALKING ABOUT THINGS THAT PARENTS WOULD GO TO JAIL
Number 5 is in all caps because this is the number one stupidest thing you can do in a case and will tip the scales against you 7 times out of 10. Do NOT talk about the pending litigation with your kids. Do NOT say the litigation is their fault. Do NOT say a parent will go to jail based on the kids testimony or because of the other parent’s court filings. Obviously, kids pick up on things and they will know something is up but the second you give in to the pettiness and discuss pending litigation with the kids you have made an enemy of the judge.
The case is a great read and goes into the factors courts look at in making these determinations, and will help illustrate why your attorney makes such a big deal about a parent not falling to the level of pettiness and immaturity of the other parent because it can really make a difference. It also shows why we always stress not to stoop to their level and to make sure you are the parent doing everything by the book, no matter how bad it gets, because it really can result in a change in custody.
Attorney Morgan Smith is a divorce attorney located on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee. She most frequently handles divorce matters in Davidson and Williamson county but does travel throughout Middle Tennessee. To schedule a consultation, call (615) 620-5848.