11 Jul 2013

TN Heart Surgeon’s Visitation Limited After Pattern of Emotional Abuse

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Tennessee law case summary on limiting parenting time in divorce and family law from the Court of Appeals.

Desiree M. Beyer v. Erik A. Beyer – Tennessee Divorce Custody

The husband and wife were married in 1994, the same year in which the husband graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School and began his career as a heart surgeon.  After graduation, he accepted a residency at the University of Texas, and the couple moved to Houston.  At the time of the marriage, the wife had a masters degree in marketing.  In the year they were married, the wife also obtained an economics degree from Vanderbilt University.  The couple had three daughters, who were born in 1997, 1999, and 2004.  The wife worked various jobs until 1998, at which time it was decided that she would stay at home and care for the children.

In 2001, the couple moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where the husband participated in a three-year heart surgery residency.  The wife handled the sale of the parties’ residence, and after the residency, she provided considerable assistance with his employment search.  In 2004, the husband secured a position at a hospital in Belton, Texas, and the parties moved there.

In 2007, the wife suspected that the husband had been having an affair.  He initial denied it, but eventually admitted to it and moved out of the marital home.  In 2008, the wife moved with the children to her parents’ home in Germantown, Tennessee.  She met with the husband’s parents in nearby Memphis, and she promised to maintain the relationship between them and their grandchildren.

In 2008, the parties attempted reconciliation in Texas and participated in marriage counseling.  He stated under oath that he did not have contact with his girlfriend during this time, but his phone records showed over 300 conversations with her.  In August 2008, the wife filed for divorce in Shelby County, Tennessee.

The husband’s relationship with his children deteriorated after the separation, and there were a number of instances when he became angry and aggressive with the children.  For example, one on visit to Texas, the children found some photographs and items belonging to the husband’s girlfriend.  The husband yelled at one of his daughters over the phone, and threatened to involve the police.  After these incidents, the girls frequently told their mother and psychologists that they did not want to see or communicate with their father.

In 2009, the husband lost his job in Texas.  After several months of unemployment, he accepted a position as a heart surgeon in Jackson, Tennessee.  At the time of the appeal, he resided in Jackson with the new girlfriend and their child, who was born in 2010.

The divorce proceedings in the trial court included various contempt motions brought by the wife.  In one of these, the husband was found in criminal contempt, and served three days in the Shelby County jail.   The trial court granted the wife a divorce on the grounds of inappropriate marital conduct.  In its final decree, the trial court noted that the husband had been untruthful and/or misleading on a number of occasions.  It also found that the husband had engaged in a pattern of emotional abuse of the children which had created much of their unhappiness and distress, and that he should be required to “participate in intensive individual therapy” to repair the relationship.  Therefore, the trial court adopted the wife’s proposed parenting plan, and granted therapeutic family visitation to the husband.  The therapeutic family visitation was to commence after the husband completed three individual therapy sessions, and were to take place every other Saturday for one hour.  Visitation was to take place with the two older girls together, and then with the younger daughter in a separate session with the therapist.  The husband was also allowed telephone contact with the daughters twice per week.  The husband was also encouraged to continue to maintain a private family social networking web page.

The father appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.  He appealed a number of issues, including whether the trial court erred in adopting the wife’s proposed parenting plan under which he was granted no parenting time, other than the therapeutic family sessions.  The Court of Appeals first noted that the trial court has wide discretion in establishing parenting arrangements, since those arrangements are often based on subtle factors and require the court to assess credibility.  The Court of Appeals also noted that parenting arrangements are not intended to punish parents, but instead must focus on the best interest and welfare of the children.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, noting that it agreed with the trial court’s conclusion.  The trial court found a pattern of emotional abuse, and concluded that the husband was unlikely to cease that pattern.  The Court of Appeals cited a number of facts consistent with this conclusion.  For example, on one occasion, the husband had dragged one daughter across the floor and locked her in a closet.  He later gave the daughter an article on the subject of “parental alienation syndrome.”  Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals found that the husband had not focused on how to heal his relationships with the children.

The Court of Appeals noted that it was up to the husband as to whether he would comply with the trial court’s orders.

The husband also appealed on various other alimony, child support, and property rulings.  The Court of Appeals affirmed most of these rulings.  However, the Court of Appeals reversed the husband’s conviction of criminal contempt.

No. W2011-00502-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 5, 2013).

See original opinion for exact language.  Legal citations omitted.

Memphis divorce attorney, Miles Mason, Sr., practices family law exclusively and is founder of the Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC.  Buy The Tennessee Divorce Client’s Handbook: What Every Divorcing Spouse Needs to Know, available on Amazon and Kindle.  To schedule your confidential consultation, call us today at (901) 683-1850.

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Memphis divorce and family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr. is the founder of Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC. For more information about our professional staff, see our Meet the Team page.

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