New Tennessee Post-Divorce Relocation Ruling
Reasonable Purpose Definition Clarified
On March 16, 2017, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the term “reasonable purpose” for relocation disputes doesn’t require a showing of a “significant purpose” or “substantial purpose.” What does this mean in practice?
This case involves an ex-husband and ex-wife who had two children with equal parenting time. However, Mother traveled internationally for work. Mother claims she sacrificed her parenting time for the financial benefit of the children until Father could finish schooling to obtain a more lucrative job here in Tennessee.
Father eventually was offered a lucrative position out of state where his family and some of Mother’s extended family resided. Mother opposed the relocation with the child.
Mother claimed the father produced no proof that he attempted to get a substantially equivalent paying job here in Tennessee. She argued the purpose for the move was not significant or substantial.
To summarize the case, the Supreme Court said the question of whether Father’s relocation was for a “reasonable purpose” is NOT to be used as a guise by the trial court to determine whether the Father’s decision to relocate is wise or fair to the mother or in the child’s best interest. The trial court must follow the statute which simply requires the requested move be for a “reasonable purpose” as construed in an ordinary meaning.
The Tennessee Supreme Court found that Mother put on virtually no evidence that the purpose for the proposed relocation was not a reasonable one. The best interest of the child is considered ONLY if the parent opposing the relocation proves one of the three statutory reasons, including it not being a reasonable purpose (see details on statute below).
What’s the take away from this case?
Make sure you exercise your “equal parenting time.” The court looked at what was actually taking place and not what was previously agreed to and ordered.
Burden Of Proof
Make sure you hire an attorney who understands the ACTUAL and EXACT BURDENS OF PROOF in these types of cases and how it shifts.
Trial judges can no longer exercise moral or equitable control over the relocation situation. Its simply a question of whether the relocation request is reasonable. You will want an experienced attorney representing you to enforce this, respectfully, as informing a Judge of limitations to their powers is a delicate art.
Need to Talk?
If you have a post-divorce issue, contact Sam Cross, Franklin TN Divorce Attorney today. Its important you hire an attorney who knows and keeps up with the law to best exercise and defend your legal rights. Schedule your free thirty (30) minute initial consultation to discuss your situation with no obligation.
If you are interested in more details regarding this case, I have provided extended details below.
The Tennessee Parental Relocation statute provides:
(a) If a parent who is spending intervals of time with a child desires to relocate outside of the state or more than one hundred (100) miles from the other parent within the state, the relocating parent shall send a notice to the other parent at the other parent’s last known address by registered or certified mail. Unless excused by the court for exigent circumstances, the notice shall be mailed not later than sixty (60) days prior to the move. The notice shall contain the following:
(1) Statement of intent to move;
(2) Location of proposed new residence;
(3) Reasons for proposed relocation; and
(4) Statement that the other parent may file a petitition in opposition to move within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice.
If the parents are not spending substantially equal intervals of residential parenting time with the child, the statute provides the following framework for resolving the dispute:
(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.
This means that a parent spending the greater amount of residential parenting time with the child who seeks to relocate “shall be permitted” to do so unless the parent opposing the move proves at least one of the previously mentioned three grounds. Two of these are a no brainer. The one that is commonly disputed is whether the relocation is for a “reasonable purpose.”
Without getting into the legal case law details, over time Tennessee courts have, in practice, required the moving parent to show the relocation is substantiated by a “significant” or “substantial” purpose after the other parent has called the reasonableness into question. The Tennessee Supreme Court has clarified and removed that from consideration.
This case ultimately binds judges to stick to the ordinary meaning of “reasonable” in granting relocation requests. This is why it is imperative that you hire an attorney who knows how to properly structure your case and argument before the Judge so as not to have your argument cutoff before it begins.