Transportation Costs Questioned in Memphis, Tennessee Parental Relocation Case: In re McKayla H.

April 24, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father are the never-married parents of Child. When Child was born, Mother lived in Virginia, and Father was in college at the University of Tennessee. After Father graduated from college, he played professional football in the NFL.

Parentage and child support were established. An agreed parenting plan structured Father’s parenting time around his professional football schedule.

Mother moved to Memphis. After Father retired from the NFL, he bought a home in the Memphis area. The parenting schedule changed to increase his parenting time to 165 days.

Shortly after that, Mother was offered a job in Virginia and sent Father a notice of relocation. After much legal wrangling, the relocation matter was heard in a trial that took nine days and in which 15 witnesses testified.

The trial court granted Mother’s petition for relocation. The trial court also ordered Father to bear sole responsibility for the cost of Child’s airfare during his parenting time.

Father appealed.

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

Tennessee’s parental relocation statute states that courts shall “assess the costs of transporting the child for visitation” when deciding relocation disputes.

Father argued the trial court erred in making him responsible for 100% of Child’s transportation costs. The Court disagreed:

This Court has explained that the relative financial resources of the parties may be considered when assigning travel expenses for visitation. Where there is a “great disparity” between the financial resources of the parties, we have concluded that it was proper for the party with more financial resources to bear the cost of transportation, even when the transportation costs were the result of the other party’s relocation.

Turning to the record, Father testified that he earned a combined gross income of $15 million in the last two years of his NFL career. The record shows that Father invested his NFL earnings into investment accounts and business ventures. Although there was no proof concerning whether and/or how much Father has profited from these investments, Father testified that he receives approximately $100,000 in income every year. Father also testified that, in 2018, he paid cash for his home in Germantown; Father stated that his house was worth approximately $1.3 million. The record shows that Father owns another house in the Memphis area and that he has a rent-paying tenant residing there; the rental income covers the expenses of this additional house. The record also shows that Child is Father’s only child; neither Father nor Stepmother work; they are not seeking employment, and they travel frequently. Indeed, Father testified that he will not have to work for the remainder of his life, and he will be able to maintain his current standard of living. Concerning Mother’s financial resources, the record shows that the job for which Mother relocated offered her a gross yearly salary of $175,000. Mother testified that, although the cost of living in [Virginia on the outskirts of Washington, DC] is higher than it is in Memphis, her salary makes up for the adjustment. The record further demonstrates that Stepfather does not work and is a stay-at-home parent. From the evidence concerning the parties’ relative financial situations, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in allocating Child’s airline travel expenses to Father.

The Court affirmed the trial court and ordered Father to pay Mother’s legal fees and the guardian ad litem’s legal fees on appeal.

K.O.’s Comment: Child’s guardian ad litem filed a brief with the Court of Appeals in which the guardian joined in Father’s argument about transportation expenses. The Court admonished the guardian in a footnote, saying:

The guardian ad litem’s joinder with Father regarding this issue is inappropriate given the issue and the guardian ad litem’s role in this litigation. In its order appointing a guardian ad litem, the trial court held that the guardian ad litem was appointed “to legally represent the interests of the minor child in this cause.” We fail to see how the trial court’s order assessing Child’s transportation cost to Father affects Child’s interests.

Source: In re McKayla H. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, April 6, 2023).

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Transportation Costs Questioned in Memphis, Tennessee Parental Relocation Case: In re McKayla H. was last modified: April 23rd, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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