Kimber Keplinger Bastone v. James Michael Bastone

Kimber Keplinger Bastone v. James Michael Bastone
E2020-00711-COA-R3-CV

This is a consolidated appeal from judgments entered upon two post-divorce petitions filed by the mother, seeking to modify the parties’ permanent parenting plan to require the father to pay an upward deviation in child support to fund private school tuition at Baylor School in Chattanooga (“Baylor”), first for the parties’ eldest of three children in one petition and then for the parties’ middle child in the second petition. The father filed an answer objecting to the expense of Baylor tuition given the parties’ respective financial situations. He also filed a counter-petition alleging that the mother had violated the joint decision-making provision in the permanent parenting plan by unilaterally enrolling the eldest child at Baylor. Although both parties sought essentially equal coparenting time, the father also requested modification of the permanent parenting plan to designate him as the primary residential parent. Each party requested sole educational decision-making authority. Following a bench trial as to the first petition, the trial court, inter alia, approved the parties’ stipulation that a material change in circumstance had occurred since entry of the prior order; maintained the mother as the primary residential parent; maintained joint decision-making authority; found that although the mother had unilaterally enrolled the eldest child at Baylor, it was in the child’s best interest to remain at the school; and found that an upward deviation in the father’s child support obligation was appropriate to fund sixty percent of the Baylor tuition for the eldest child. During a subsequent bench trial on the mother’s second petition, the Baylor financial aid director, who had testified during the first trial concerning typical financial aid awards, testified that neither of the children at issue had been awarded financial aid for the upcoming year. The trial court sua sponte amended its prior order to reduce the upward deviation in the father’s child support obligation to fifty percent of the Baylor tuition for the eldest child and to eliminate the father’s responsibility for any extracurricular expenses at Baylor. The trial court entered a separate judgment dismissing the mother’s petition as to the middle child but including a provision that the mother would be allowed to enroll the middle child at Baylor or another private school provided that the father was not 1 Upon the appellant’s motions, this Court entered an order on August 18, 2020, consolidating the appellant’s appeal in case number E2020-00712-COA-R3-CV with this appeal. 04/30/2021 - 2 - responsible for any portion of the tuition. The trial court incorporated its rulings into a modified permanent parenting plan that included a prohibition against enrollment of the third child in private school absent agreement of the parties or a subsequent court order. The father has appealed both judgments. Having determined that the upward deviation in child support for the eldest child should be capped at no more than fifty percent of the 2020-2021 Baylor tuition amount testified to at the time of trial, we modify the deviation to equal the lesser of (a) $13,200.00 annually or (b) fifty percent of the current annual Baylor tuition each year for the eldest child after deduction of proceeds from scholarships, grants, stipends, or other cost-reducing programs received by or on behalf of the child. We affirm the trial court’s judgments in all other respects and deny the father’s request for attorney’s fees on appeal.

Authoring Judge: 
Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Originating Judge: 
Judge John B. Bennett
Date Filed: 
Friday, April 30, 2021