Parental relocation cases often present one of the most difficult challenges for attorneys and parties alike. Parental relocation occurs when the parties have a court-ordered parenting plan, and one parent seeks to move with the parties’ minor child outside the State of Tennessee, or more than fifty (50) miles from the other parent’s home within the state. In Tennessee, the Parental Relocation Statute, which is codified in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108, provides the “rules” for parents wishing to move with the parties’ minor child, and the rights of the non-custodial parent in opposing the move.
The statute directs that the parent seeking to move must send notice by certified or registered mail to the other parent at their last known address at least sixty (60) days prior to the planned move. The notice must contain the following four (4) items: (1) statement of that parent’s intent to move; (2) the location of proposed new residence; (3) the reasons for proposed relocation; and (4) a statement that the other parent may file a petition in opposition to the move within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice.
If the parents cannot agree on a new visitation schedule, the relocating parent must file a petition seeking to alter visitation and allow the move. On the other hand, the non-relocating parent may file a petition in opposition to removal of the child within thirty (30) days of receipt of notice, and the court will decide whether or not permit the move.
Under Tennessee’s Parental Relocation Statute, the trial court will allow the parent who spends the greater amount of time with the child to relocate with the child unless the parent who opposes the move proves one of three grounds for denying permission, which are (1) that the proposed move would pose a threat of serious harm to the child; (2) that the relocating parent’s motive is vindictive; or (3) that the move does not have a reasonable purpose.
Just last week, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided the case Cassidy Lynne Aragon v. Reynaldo Manuel Aragon, M2014-02292-SC-R11-CV, in which it granted permission to appeal to address the standard for what constitutes a “reasonable purpose” under the third prong of the Parental Relocation Statute for a non-custodial parent to contest relocation with the parties’ child. In this case, the father spent the majority of the residential parenting time with the parties’ child. He sought to move with the child to Arizona because he had gotten a new, better paying job in an area where he and the child would live near his parents and his and mother’s extended family. The trial court held that the father did not have a reasonable purpose for the relocation, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, albeit, in a divided decision.
The dissent in the Court of Appeals took issue with the interpretation of the term “reasonable purpose” that construed the term to mean one that is significant or substantial when weighed against the loss to the parent opposing the relocation. The Tennessee Supreme Court announced that this definition misconstrued the term “reasonable purpose,” and that under the ordinary meaning of the term, that the father stated a reasonable purpose for relocating to Arizona with the parties’ child and that the mother did not carry her burden of establishing any one of the three grounds for denying the father permission to relocate with the child.
The Tennessee Supreme Court noted that under section 36-6-108(d)(1), “[t]he parent spending the greater amount of time with the child shall be permitted to relocate with the child unless the court finds” that the parent opposing the relocation has proven one of the enumerated grounds. Because the mother did not prove that father’s move was not for a reasonable purpose, the trial court’s denial of permission for the father to relocate to Arizona with the child was revered and father was restored to his status as the primary residential parent. Now the parties or trial court must fashion a new parenting plan based of father’s permitted and the best interests of the child.
It is important to remember that the Parental Relocation Statute applies only “[a]fter custody or co-parenting has been established by the entry of a permanent parenting plan or final order.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108(a). Our firm recently tackled just this issue in a Rule 10 application for extraordinary appeal, and the Court of Appeals agreed because there had never been an initial custody order or parenting plan establishing the custodial rights of one of the parents, the other did not have to give the non-custodial parent notice of intent to move with the child before doing so.
The overall purpose of the “Parent Relocation Statute” is to prevent one parent from moving with the child without the consent of the other parent and the court. The child’s best interest is tantamount when determining whether relocation is appropriate. If you have a parenting plan and are thinking about moving with your child, or need to establish your custodial rights to protect your parental interests regarding a possible relocation situation, please call us to schedule an appointment to discuss your matter.