Facts: The parties divorced after a 12-year marriage. Mother was designated the primary residential parent for the parties’ seven children. Father remained a very active parent. A year later, Mother met a Canadian man on a dating website and became engaged four months later. Mother notified Father of her intention to relocate to Canada with the children, to which Father objected. Mother married just before the hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court denied Mother’s request to relocate, finding that the move had no reasonable purpose, that it posed a threat of specific and serious harm to the children, and that it was not in the children’s best interests. Mother appealed.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
When a divorced parent seeks to relocate with the parties’ minor children more than 100 miles from the other parent, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108(a) requires that the relocating parent shall give written notice of the proposed move.
If the relocating parent spends more time with the children than the other parent, the relocating parent is presumed to be entitled to relocate unless the other parent can establish one of the three grounds listed under Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108(d)(1), to wit:
(A) The relocation does not have a reasonable purpose;
(B) The relocation would pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child that outweighs the threat of harm to the child of a change of custody; or
(C) The parent’s motive for relocating with the child is vindictive in that it is intended to deter visitation rights of the non-custodial parent or the parent spending less time with the child.
If the trial court finds that none of the three grounds have been established, no further inquiry is required and the court “shall” grant the request to relocate. However, if any of the three grounds is established, the court shall determine whether relocation is in the children’s best interests. If the court finds it is, the request for relocation must be granted. If the court finds it is not in the best interests of the children to relocate, then the requested relocation must be denied. If the parent elects to relocate without the children, the trial court must modify the parenting plan after considering all relevant factors. Accordingly, relocation cases are fact intensive and require an examination of the specific facts related to the rationale and motives for moving.
Once the parent seeking to relocate states the reasons for the proposed relocation, the burden is on the parent opposing the relocation to prove that the proposed relocation does not have a reasonable purpose. In the context of relocating minor children, the reasonable purpose must be a significant purpose, substantial when weighed against the gravity of the loss of the non-custodial parent’s ability to participate fully in their children’s lives in a more meaningful way.
While Tennessee law is clear that it is reasonable for a husband and wife to want to live together, a parent’s proposed relocation based solely on a new marriage does not always mean that it is reasonable for the child to relocate with the parent. Parental relocation cases considering similar issues — that is, whether relocating to live with a new spouse is a reasonable purpose — generally focus on whether it is more reasonable for the new spouse to relocate.
After examining the relevant case law in detail, the Court concluded that the Mother’s new husband’s responsibilities in Canada
are not sufficient to render it unreasonable for [him] to relocate to Tennessee to live with his new wife. To the contrary, as the trial court found, it is more reasonable for him to move to Tennessee than for Mother to relocate a distance of 2,700 miles with seven minor children to live with him in Canada.
Furthermore, these considerations must also be weighed against “the gravity of the loss” of Father’s ability to participate fully and meaningfully in the lives of his seven minor children, the youngest of which was less than three years old at the time of the hearing in this matter. Given the distance to [Canada] from [Tennessee], the difficulties and time and expense to travel to and from [Canada], and the number of children and their ages, we find Father’s loss would be grave.
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the trial court’s determination that Mother’s proposed relocation to Canada with the seven minor children has no reasonable purpose.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.