Eldridge v. Eldridge
42 S.W.3d 82 (Tenn. 2001)

Facts:

  • Anthony and Julia Eldridge were divorced in 1992.
  • The couple agreed to joint custody of their minor daughters, Andrea and Taylor, who were ages eight and nine respectively.
  • Two years later, a dispute arose regarding Ms. Eldridge’s visitation rights, when Ms. Eldridge was engaged in a live-in homosexual relationship with Lisa Franklin.
  • Ms. Eldridge moved the court to establish a visitation schedule, and Mr. Eldridge moved for sole custody of the children.

History:

  • Trial court awarded Mr. Eldridge custody, and permitted Ms. Eldridge unrestricted overnight visitation with her daughter.
  • The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to prohibit daughter’s overnight visitation while ex-wife’s partner was present in the home.

Issue:
Whether the trial court abused its discretion in ordering unrestricted overnight visitation with the mother.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • The Court of Appeals’ opinion made clear that the court did “not rely on the fact that Ms. Eldridge is a lesbian” in modifying the trial court’s order. The court failed to state, however, what it did rely upon.
  • “It is not the function of appellate courts to tweak a visitation order in the hopes of achieving a more reasonable result than the trial court. Appellate courts correct errors. When no error in the trial court’s ruling is evident from the record, the trial court’s ruling must stand.”
  • Here, there was no evidence of adverse or detrimental effects on Taylor resulting from the overnight visitation with Ms. Eldridge in Ms. Franklin’s presence.
  • Additionally, they made no expression of physical emotion or physical contact when Taylor was around.
  • Thus, there was no abuse of discretion and the decision had to stand.
  • Mom’s visitation should not be limited just because she has a homosexual partner.

Rule: In reviewing a trial court’s visitation order for an abuse of discretion, the child’s welfare is given paramount consideration, and the right of the noncustodial parent to reasonable visitation is clearly favored. Nevertheless, the noncustodial parent’s visitation may be limited, or eliminated, if there is definite evidence that to permit the right would jeopardize the child, in either a physical or moral sense.