A Tennessee appeals court has reversed a trial court’s decision barring lesbian mother Angel Chandler’s partner of nearly 10 years from sleeping in Chandler’s home while one or both of Chandler’s children are spending the night.
The appellate court on June 29 unanimously agreed the trial court judge, Gibson County Chancellor George Ellis, had “abused its discretion” by invoking the paramour provision. The appellate court also found the provision to be against the children’s best interest, contrary to what Ellis had previously insisted. This is Ellis’ second remand from the appeals court on this case.
The original provision invoked by Ellis states the paramour — or lover — must not spend the night at the residence of the mother while the children are visiting. This provision created such financial difficulties for the mother that the children could no longer visit her, because the mother and her partner could not maintain the cost of two residences. The American Civil Liberties Union has helped Chandler in litigating the case and says Barker has made no objection to Chandler’s partner staying the night.
Chandler and ex-husband Joseph Barker divorced in 1998 after Barker engaged in an extramarital affair with his current wife. In May 2008, the paramour provision was entered into the parenting plan for the children when Chandler and Barker returned to court to revise custody rules. The mother challenged the paramour provision and the appeals court ordered the trial court to reconsider the case. In March 2010, the trial court held another hearing and the court again included the provision in the permanent parenting plan. The mother appealed again, leading to the June 29 decision.
By the letter of the law, Chandler’s partner is a paramour, but only because Tennessee does not allow nor recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions. Court-ordered psychological evaluations, which took place in May 2008, found Chandler’s partner, who has training in social work, is better suited as a surrogate parent to the daughter than her father’s new wife. Dr. David Pickering, who conducted the evaluations, reported that if the she were to remain in the home with her step-mother, the daughter’s emotional depression would likely worsen. Pickering recommended that she be put in the primary care of her mother and did not recommend any visitation restrictions on Chandler’s partner.
According to The Citizen-Times, Chandler and her partner have moved to Asheville, N.C., where the two maintained separate homes in order to comply with the original custody agreements. After time, the couple could no longer afford to live separately and moved back in together, preventing any visitation for Chandler’s children.