Facts: When Mother and Father divorced, Mother was designated the primary residential parent of their child. She lived in Cleveland, Tennessee at the time.
Years later, Mother remarried. Her new husband lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, approximately 160 miles away.
After she remarried, she sent Father notice of her intent to move over 50 miles away with the child.
Father filed a timely petition objecting to the relocation.
The trial court found that Mother’s move had a reasonable purpose and was not designed or intended to defeat Father’s parenting rights. The trial court ordered that Mother be allowed to move to Greeneville with the child.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108(d) provides that if the parents are not actually spending substantially equal intervals of time with the child, the parent spending the greater time with the child shall be permitted to relocate with the child unless the court finds:
- the relocation has no reasonable purpose;
- the relocation poses a threat of specific and serious harm to the child that outweighs the threat of harm from a change of custody; or
- the parent’s motive for relocating with the child is vindictive because it is intended to defeat or deter the visitation rights of the other parent.
The burden of proving one of these grounds is on the parent opposing the relocation. If the burden of proof is not met, the trial court must grant permission for the relocation.
The reasonable purpose ground is not intended to be a guise under which the trial court may determine whether the parent’s decision to relocate is wise or fair or in the child’s best interest. The legislature’s intent is for the parent spending the majority of the parenting time with the child to relocate with the child without court intervention except where the other parent proves the move has no reasonable purpose at all.
The Court’s ruling echoed that of the trial court:
[B]ecause Mother spends the greater amount of time with the child, Father has the burden of proving one of the three grounds for denying a petition to relocate. . . .
He, however, fails to establish that Mother’s motive for relocating to live with her new husband is, in any way, vindictive. With respect to Mother’s proposed relocation being vindictive, Father’s counsel stated that “the point of that argument is that it’s already difficult for [Father] to exercise his time, but this is going to make it more difficult . . . .” While the move will clearly require more travel time for Father to exercise his visitation rights, that alone does not demonstrate that Mother’s motive for relocating is vindictive. . . .
* * * * *
[M]other has proposed to relocate with the child because she has remarried and intends to move out of her current residence . . . and into her husband’s ancestral home. To us, this is a reasonable purpose for Mother to relocate.
The trial court’s approval of Mother’s relocation was affirmed. The Court also awarded Mother her attorney’s fees incurred on appeal per Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108(i).