Facts: Mother and Father are the parents of Child.
After they married, Mother discovered Father had a serious drinking problem. After several discussions, rehabilitation facilities, and warnings concerning Father’s addiction, Mother relocated with Child to New York to be near her family.
Several months later, the parties began divorce proceedings.
Father testified Mother should be responsible for payment of his travel expenses to visit Child because she decided to move to New York with Child; in the alternative, he testified the parties should equally split the cost of transportation.
The trial court designated Mother as the primary residential parent and awarded Father 80 days of parenting time per year, which amounted to one weekend per month with extended time during the summer and winter holiday. Father was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $697 per month. Mother was ordered to pay all costs associated with transporting Child to and from Tennessee for Father’s parenting time. Specifically, the trial court stated:
Although the Court understands that Mother moved out of the State of Tennessee using a very common-sense analysis, the Court still has to enter the analysis that she chose to have a child in the State of Tennessee and that she is bound to this state for that purpose. The Court does not begrudge Mother from moving and the Court finds that Mother did not make the wrong decision in moving. The Court finds that Mother acted in a way that she thought was appropriate to benefit the child. If a party moves out of the jurisdiction of this Court, it is generally accepted that the party moving will be responsible for the transportation of the child back to the state….
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Mother argued the cost of transporting Child for visitation will exceed her annual award of child support. She contended she moved for Child’s benefit, that Father’s income is far greater than Mother’s, and both parties testified at trial that an equitable solution to the transportation expenses would be for each party to pay one-half of those expenses.
Assigning travel expenses for visitation is an issue on which the relative financial resources of the parties may be considered. Trial courts are vested with broad discretion in making determinations regarding transportation.
After reviewing the record, the Court concluded:
The trial court found that Father’s annual income totaled $75,000 based on his employment, and imputed an annual income of $50,000 to Mother based on her education, ability to secure a job, and the money donated from her relatives. Based on the relative financial status of the parties, the fact that both parents recommended to the court that they equally share the costs of transporting the child to facilitate Father’s parenting time, and realizing that requiring Mother to pay all costs of transportation will significantly deplete, if not exceed, the annual award of child support, which creates an unjust result upon Mother, … we modify the parenting plan to the extent that the parties shall share equally the costs of transporting the child.
Accordingly, the trial court’s ruling was reversed and modified to allocate the transportation expenses one-half to each party.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family Law Attorney.