Facts: Mother and Father, the parents of two children, were divorced in 2012. Mother was designated the primary residential parent. Father received 119 days of parenting time.
In 2015, Mother provided Father with a notice of intent to relocate to Pennsylvania, citing her desire to reside with her current husband, an employment opportunity, an educational opportunity, proximity to relatives and a church, and the availability of extracurricular activities for the children.
Father filed a petition in opposition to the requested relocation, asserting that the proposed relocation was neither reasonable nor in the children’s best interest.
The trial court found Mother’s proposed relocation lacked a reasonable purpose and, therefore, it denied Mother’s request to relocate the children. Father was designated the primary residential parent. Mother received 65 days of parenting time.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court.
Tennessee’s parental relocation statute creates a mechanism for determining whether a parent who has custody of a child may relocate outside the state or more than 50 miles from the other parent within Tennessee.
Because Father did not have substantially equal parenting time, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108(d)(1) applies. That provision says:
(d)(1) If the parents are not actually spending substantially equal intervals of time with the child and the parent spending the greater amount of time with the child proposes to relocate with the child, the other parent may, within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice, file a petition in opposition to removal of the child. The other parent may not attempt to relocate with the child unless expressly authorized to do so by the court pursuant to a change of custody or primary custodial responsibility. The parent spending the greater amount of time with the child shall be permitted to relocate with the child unless the court finds:
(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 defeat or deter visitation rights of the non-custodial parent or the parent spending less time with the child.
The parent opposing the relocation bears the burden of proof to establish one of these three grounds. The relocation shall be permitted if the opposing parent fails to prove any of the three grounds. If the court finds one of the grounds to be present, then the court must determine whether the relocation is in the best interest of the child.
The issue on appeal was whether the proof supported the trial court’s finding that Mother’s proposed relocation lacked a reasonable purpose.
Determinations concerning whether a proposed move has a reasonable purpose are fact-intensive and require a thorough examination of the unique circumstances of each case. The reasonable purpose of the proposed relocation 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. Tennessee courts have held that the desire of a primary residential parent to move to be near here or her extended family can form the basis for a reasonable purpose, particularly when this reason is augmented by additional considerations.
The Court found Mother’s proposed relocation had a reasonable purpose:
Here, Mother cited numerous reasons in support of her relocation, including (1) proximity to her husband; (2) availability of support from extended family; (3) an employment opportunity with an increased income; (4) the ability to pursue post-graduate education; and (5) the absence of reliable family support in Tennessee. She also claimed that the relocation would reduce the financial strain of maintaining two households and testified concerning specific educational and extracurricular activities for the Children. Father failed to respond to the majority of Mother’s stated reasons in his petition in opposition to the proposed relocation or at the hearing. He simply asserted that similar opportunities were available in Tennessee and that the relocation would disrupt the Children’s relationship with the maternal grandmother. He also claimed that the relocation was solely for the benefit of Mother and her current husband.
We agree that similar employment and educational opportunities may be available in Tennessee. However, Mother presented many other considerations in support of her proposed relocation. With all of the above considerations in mind, we conclude that the stated purposes for relocating are reasonable and substantial when considered together and that the purposes outweigh Father’s loss of co-parenting time. Accordingly, we need not address whether the relocation was in the best interest of the Children. We reverse the decision of the trial court.
K.O.’s Comment: For whatever reason, Father chose not to participate in this appeal. He did not file a brief or make any appearance whatsoever. The trial court had no one defending its decision on appeal.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.