Tennessee law when a custodial parent wants to relocate with the child

Tennessee has a fairly rigid procedure for resolving this question.

It can be extremely difficult on everyone when a custodial parent wants to move away and take the child with to the new home. This can make contact between the parent left behind and the child a challenge logistically and financially. Still, in America today, moving to a new town or state for a new job, to be near extended family or for a new relationship is quite common.

Tennessee relocation statute

Every state has its own law to determine how these relocation requests are resolved legally between the parties. In 1998, the Tennessee state legislature passed a statute setting out a relocation procedure along with legal standards.

This statute has been amended several times and in 2017, in the case of Aragon v. Aragon, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued a major opinion interpreting the statute.

Applicable rules

The relocation statute says that if a parent wants to move either outside Tennessee or more than 50 miles from the other parent, the parent seeking to relocate must send notice to the other parent via certified or registered mail at least 60 days before the move, unless the court grants a shorter time for "exigent circumstances."

The notice must say the parent wants to move and why, the location of the new home and a statement that the other parent can petition the court in opposition within thirty days of getting the notice.

No opposition

If the parent who would be left behind does not file a timely petition opposing the relocation, the other parent may relocate. The parents can agree to a revised visitation schedule to accommodate the move, but otherwise the parent seeking to move must petition the court to have visitation revised.

To decide, the judge must consider all relevant factors as well as certain things specifically listed in the law. Part of the court's decision must be whether the child support guidelines should be deviated from under the circumstances, including the new cost of child transportation for visitation periods.

Opposition

If the parents spend equal time with the child, the parent who would stay behind may petition the court opposing the move. The judge will decide whether to allow the move based on the best interests of the child.

If the parents spend unequal time with the child and the parent who spends the most time wants to relocate with the child, the other parent may petition the court in opposition. The parent seeking relocation in this situation "shall be permitted to relocate" unless the parent in opposition can prove one of three things:

  • No "reasonable purpose" for the move
  • Specific, serious harm to the child
  • Vindictive motive for the move

If none of these is shown, the parent may move with the child.

Reasonable purpose

The Aragon case interpreted "reasonable purpose" by overruling a previous case that had said that "reasonable purpose" means "significant" or "substantial" as weighed against the loss of parental involvement of the parent left behind. Instead, the Aragon court said that "reasonable purpose" should have its "natural and ordinary meaning."

In essence, this takes pressure off a parent wanting to relocate to show a drastic reason for wanting to move. Instead, the reason must only be reasonable as the term normally means.

If one of the three grounds for denying the relocation request is proven, the court then decides whether to allow the move based on an assessment of what would be in the child's best interests.

If the parent is allowed to move away or if the request is denied and the parent decides to move without the child, the court will assess appropriate changes to custody, visitation and child support, depending on the circumstances.

Anyone facing a potential parental relocation, on either side of the question, should seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.