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Parent Relocation After a Divorce

JUN
16
2016

After a divorce, there are a number of reasons why a parent may wish to move away.  Better job opportunities may lie elsewhere, much needed family support might require a change of address or the parent could be urged to move by a new romantic interest.

Parenting plans will almost inevitably be affected if a parent makes a long distance move.  Recognizing this, the Tennessee Code has a specific statute on parent relocation that must be followed to the letter.  The statute is found at Section 36-6-108 and applies when one parent with joint custody or who has been designated as the primary residential parent wants to move more than 50 miles away from the other parent.  The law requires the moving parent to give notice of the impending move to the other parent at least 60 days before the move.  Notice is to be provided by registered or certified mail and must include information about the move, including the new address and the reason for the move.  The non-moving party then has 30 days to file a petition to block the move or else any objection to the move will be considered waived.  There is a presumption a primary residential parent desiring to move should be able to do so but the objecting parent must be given an opportunity to show there is no reasonable basis for the move and the relocation would not be in the "best interest" of the child.  There is no presumption in favor of or against the move if the parents exercise joint custody.

A moving parent's failure to comply with the statute can lead to very negative consequences in litigation, including loss of status as the primary residential parent and an obligation to pay the other parent's attorney's fees.  A Chattanooga case makes that point.  In Mackey v. Mayfield, 2015 WL 5882657 (Tenn. Ct. App., Oct. 8, 2015), a father who had been designated the primary residential parent decided to move to Wisconsin, allegedly for better job opportunities, but more likely to be with his wife and her family.  At trial, Father did not prove proper notice was given and probably hurt his chances further when it was learned the move was made in violation of a previous Order of the trial court.  Father tried to side-step the Order by going to a Georgia court for permission to move.  This led the trial court to conclude Father could not be trusted to follow any parenting plan if he took the child to Wisconsin so Mother was designated the new primary residential parent.  The Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling and also ordered Father to pay the attorney's fees Mother incurred during the appeal.

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What Justifies a Change in Custody?
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