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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Apr 30, 2015

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Daniel H. Rader, IV, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Timothy Joshua Gooding.

Attorneys 2:

Brett A. York and Tiffany S. Lyon, Crossville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jessika Ann Gooding.

Judge(s): CLEMENT

Father appeals the parenting schedule contending it is not supported by the evidence and that the trial court erred by implicitly basing the parenting schedule on an erroneous legal standard, the tender years doctrine. Decisions concerning parenting plans are reviewed based on the deferential abuse of discretion standard. Nevertheless, discretionary decisions must be based on the applicable law and the relevant facts; accordingly, they are not immune from meaningful appellate review. In all actions tried upon the facts without a jury, the trial court is required, pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01, to find the facts specially, state separately its conclusions of law, and enter judgment accordingly. The underlying rationale for this mandate is that it facilitates appellate review by affording a clear understanding of the basis of the trial court's decision; in the absence of findings of fact and conclusions of law, this court is left to wonder on what basis the court reached its ultimate decision. When a trial court fails to comply with Rule 52.01, the appellate court cannot determine whether the trial court applied the correct legal standard or what reasoning it employed. In such circumstances, the appellate court is not required to review the discretionary decision with deference. In this case, the trial court established a parenting schedule without identifying the legal principles it applied or the factual basis for its decision; therefore, it failed to satisfy the Rule 52.01 mandate. Having no way of knowing the reasoning for the trial court's decision, we conducted a de novo review of the record to determine where the preponderance of the evidence lies and found no factual or legal basis for the disparity in parenting time afforded the parents. Accordingly, we reverse the parenting schedule and remand with instructions for the trial court to establish a parenting schedule consistent with the statutory aspiration to maximize each parent's participation in the life of the child based on all relevant facts and circumstances. Further, the court is to identify the factual and legal basis upon which the new parenting schedule is based as Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01 requires.