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Recent Tennessee Divorce Law Court of Appeals Decisions

Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor G. Richard Johnson

The duties and rights of a guardian after a divorce.

This post-divorce case involves the application of Supreme Court Rule 40A, which governs the appointment, role and duties of a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem in this case, Janice Russell, was appointed on November 7, 2008. She filed a motion requesting the court to hold her ward’s father, appellant Scott D. Paterson (“father”), in contempt.
After father filed a response pointing out that Rule 40A, § 9(a)(4) did not authorize a guardian ad litem to file a contempt motion, the trial court, in response, entered an order on March 17, 2010, appointing Ms. Russell “attorney ad litem.” Subsequently, Rule 40A, § 9 was amended to allow a guardian ad litem to “take any action that may be taken by an attorney representing a party pursuant to the Rules of Civil Procedure.” After the amendment took effect, Russell referred to herself in her filings as “guardian ad litem.” The trial court followed suit in its final order. On January 20, 2011, the trial court entered an order that disposed of all matters relating to custody of the child.

More than a year later, father filed a petition to modify his child support. On May 16, 2013, the guardian ad litem filed a “motion for emergency hearing and motion for contempt.” On May 20, 2013, the trial court conducted a hearing, after which it entered an order holding father in contempt on four counts, sentencing him to 40 days in jail, suspending all of his parenting time, and reducing contact with his daughter to one telephone call per week. Father appeals.

We hold that, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 40A, § 5, the guardian ad litem’s appointment terminated when, with the passage of time, the court’s order disposing of the custody matters became final. Hence, the guardian ad litem had no authority to file her motion for “emergency hearing” and for contempt. We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Tennessee Divorce Information
Tennessee Divorce Mediation Process
See other Court of Appeals Decisions
See the entire Potter v. Paterson opinion

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