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Tennessee Court Grants Mother’s Request to Relocate with Child After Divorce


When a couple with children divorce, the court will either approve a parenting plan agreed to by the parties or order a plan that it determines serves the best interests of the children. Such a plan typically sets forth the custody arrangement, identifying whether the parties will have joint or sole decision making in regards to major decisions. The court may also order a certain amount of limited parenting time/visitation, depending on the circumstances. If you are contemplating divorce, it is important to understand your legal rights throughout each stage of the proceeding. An experienced family law attorney from the Nashville area would be able to guide you through the process with full knowledge of the local laws and procedures applicable to your case.

Since people’s lives are fluid and can change from one moment to the next, the parenting plan is subject to modification, but only under certain circumstances. Tennessee law governs such modifications of parenting time (i.e. custody/visitation), including one parent’s request to relocate with a child. In a recent case, the court reviewed a mother’s request to relocate with her new husband, taking the child with them. Her daughter was born in 2007, and the parents divorced in 2009. According to the parties’ agreement, the mother was the primary residential parent, but the parenting plan granted the parents equal parenting time (i.e. equal visitation). Both parties eventually remarried, and the father and stepfather of the child each served in the United States Army.

After the stepfather’s request for a military position in Alabama was approved, the mother provided the father with a notice of intent to relocate. The father opposed the motion and requested designation as the child’s primary residential parent. During a hearing on the issue, both sides presented witnesses who testified on their behalf, either arguing for or against the relocation of the child. The trial court ultimately granted the mother’s request under § 36-6-108 of the Tennessee Code. The court reasoned that the father failed to maintain “substantially equal intervals of time” with the child. Therefore, the court concluded that under the statute, the requested relocation was reasonable, would not harm the child, and was not sought for a vindictive purpose. The father appealed.

The court of appeals reviewed the specific language of the relocation statute. Under the law, when a court determines whether to grant the relocation, there are a variety of factors to consider depending on the precise situation. When one parent objects to the relocation, the court is required to ascertain the amount of time each parent actually spends with the child. Here, the father did not provide evidence to counter the mother’s computation of his time actually spent with the child. The court’s responsibility is to determine whether the parent opposing the relocation has actually spent substantially equal intervals of time with the child or not. If the parent is not spending substantially equal intervals of time then the burden of proof required to be allowed to relocate with the child is a lower burden then if the parent is spending substantially equal intervals of time with the child or children.

Ultimately, the court is expected to make a decision based on the best interests of the child. The court of appeals found that the mother’s relocation had a reasonable purpose under the applicable statute. There was no evidence that the move would result in severe emotional detriment to the child. Furthermore, the mother presented evidence that the child easily adjusted to new surroundings. Lastly, the court found that the mother was as capable as the father of taking care of the child’s emotional and developmental needs.

The court granted the mother’s request to relocate. It is important to understand that the outcome of a child custody case is dependent on the law and how it applies to the particular facts and circumstances. Widrig Law PLLC is a family law firm serving clients in Nashville, Murfreesboro, Franklin, Mt Juliet, Smyrna, Lebanon, Fairview, Bellevue, Gallatin, Springfield, and Clarksville. If you have questions about child custody , parental relocation, or any other related matters, just call us at 615-417-7800 to schedule your consultation.

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