Post-Divorce Relocation Allowed in Tennessee: Goddard v. Goddard

Facts: When Mother and Father divorced, Mother was designated the primary residential parent for Child. Father’s parenting time consisted of alternating weekends, one overnight each week, and various holidays. Some time later, Mother filed a motion to relocate to Florida with Child citing job opportunities, the proximity and support of her family, and a social network of friends available to her in Florida. In response, Father filed a petition in opposition to the relocation request and a counterclaim requesting that he be designated as the primary residential parent. After a three-day trial, the trial court granted Mother’s request to relocate. Father appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Parental relocation cases are governed by the provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108. Under the statute, the legal standard to be applied depends upon whether the parents actually spend substantially equal amounts of time with the child. If they do, no presumption in favor of or against relocation arises, and the trial court must decide the petition to relocate on the basis of the child’s best interest. The statute reflects a legislatively mandated presumption in favor of relocating custodial parents who spend the greater amount of time with the child. If the parent who seeks to relocate with the child spends the greater amount of time with the child, the court “shall” permit the relocation unless the other parent can establish that the relocation: (1) does not have a reasonable purpose; (2) poses a threat of specific and serious harm to the child that outweighs the threat of harm from a change of custody; or (3) is due to a vindictive motive in that it is intended to defeat or deter visitation rights of the other parent. The parent opposing the relocation bears the burden of proof to establish one of these three grounds, and if he or she fails to do so, the relocation shall be permitted. If one of these three circumstances is shown, the trial court must then proceed to a best interest analysis.

In this case, there was no question that Mother spent the greater amount of time with Child. After reviewing the trial court record, the Court concluded:

The trial court similarly found that “the possibility of better employment, a possibility of perhaps putting certain financial matters behind her does constitute a reasonable purpose for moving. . . .” On our review of the record, the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that Mother’s “financial condition, employment situation, family support and desire to relocate to Florida constitute[] a reasonable purpose” for the move. . . .

In this case, the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that the move poses no “specific and serious” threat of harm to the Child as contemplated by [Tennessee Code Annotated] § 36-6-108(d)(1)(B). . . .

Again, the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that Mother’s motive in wanting to relocate to Florida was not vindictive.

The trial court was affirmed in all respects.

Goddard v. Goddard (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, February 24, 2012).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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