Child Custody and Relocation in Tennessee

Learn more about child custody and relocation in Tennessee.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School
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It's common for a divorced parent to relocate with a child, but this can create problems for the other parent, including decreased parenting time and increased visitation costs. In Tennessee, if a custodial parent wants to relocate with a child, they need to send notice to the other parent. If the nonmoving parent doesn't agree with the proposed move, they can ask the court to deny the request or change custody.

What Constitutes a Relocation?

A custodial parent is free to move without court approval if it's less than 50 miles from the other parent's residence. If a parent wants to move further, or out-of-state, the law requires the parent to provide written notice to the court and the nonmoving parent, and the notice must meet specific requirements.

The custodial parent must send written notice—by certified or registered mail—to the other parent's last-known address no later than 60 days before the date of the proposed move.

Unless the court has given the custodial parent permission to restrict personal information from the non-custodial parent (which can happen in some instances of domestic violence), the notice must contain the following information:

  • a statement of your intent to move
  • the location of the proposed new residence
  • the reasons for the proposed move, and
  • a statement that the other parent may file a petition to object to the move within 30 days of receipt of the notice.

If the notice doesn't meet the above requirements, the court may deny the relocation. If the notice is acceptable, and the other parent doesn't file an objection, the parent can relocate after 30 days. The court can grant the relocation without a hearing, so it's important for a non-custodial parent to file an objection within 30 days.

Unless both parents agree on a new schedule, the relocating parent must file a petition asking the court to change the visitation schedule.

What Does the Court Consider During a Relocation Hearing?

To start, a court will determine if the parents spend equal time with the child. To do this, the court will consider:

  • the provisions for parenting time in the current order
  • any additional time each parent spends with the child
  • the time each parent actually spent with the child
  • the activities each parent is engaged in
  • the resources expended directly relating to the care and supervision of the child, and
  • any other relevant factors.

If the courts believe both parents share equal time with the child, it will analyze a variety of factors to determine whether to approve the relocation. There is no presumption that favors or opposes the relocation, so it is up to each parent to provide the court with documentation, witnesses, or other evidence to prove that it is in the child's best interest to reside with them. The court will not consider the parent's gender as a factor in a relocation hearing.

The factors the court will consider include:

  • the extent to which the parents exercised visitation rights with the child
  • the likelihood that if the court allows a relocation, the residential parent will comply with a new visitation order
  • the quality of the parent-child relationship
  • the quality of care the primary caregiver has given the child
  • the importance of stability in the child's life
  • the stability of the family unit
  • the physical and mental health of the parents
  • the home, school, and community record of the child
  • the child's preference, if 12 years or older
  • any evidence of child abuse, and
  • the character and behavior of anyone else living in the home, or frequently visit the home and the child's interaction with those people.

Specific and Serious Harm

If the court determines that the parents are not spending equal time with the child, and the relocating parent spends more time with the child, the other parent can object to the proposed move. The court must allow the relocation unless the other parent can show the relocation doesn't have a reasonable purpose, or the motive for moving with the child is vindictive and intended to interfere with the other parent's visitation rights.

If the move is reasonable and not vindictive, the other parent must show that the relocation will pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child that outweighs the threat of harm to the child if the court modifies custody. To be successful in this argument, the parent needs to prove to the court one or more of the following:

  • the relocating parent wants to take a child with a serious medical problem to an area where adequate treatment is not readily available
  • the child has specific educational needs and the new residence does not have acceptable educational facilities
  • the moving parent wants to relocate to live with a person who has a history of child or domestic abuse, or who is currently abusing drugs or alcohol
  • the child relies on the nonmoving parent for emotional support, nurturing, and development and the relocation would cause the child severe emotional distress
  • the custodial parent is emotionally disturbed and the parent can't care for the child without its current support network, or
  • the proposed relocation is in a foreign country that doesn't enforce the visitation rights of noncustodial parents, that doesn't have a fully functioning legal system, or that otherwise presents a substantial risk of harm to the child.

If the nonmoving parent can't show any of the above factors, the court will approve the relocation. If the court approves the move, it will ensure that the nonmoving parent has the opportunity for adequate and quality parenting time with the child through a new visitation schedule. This often involves extended summer and school vacations, and weekend visits throughout the year. The court will assess the cost of transportation during the child's visitation and, if necessary, will revisit child support to make accommodations for the paying parent.

Relocation cases are complicated. Not only do these situations involve changing residences and visitation schedules, you may also need to address modification of custody, which is difficult. If you want to relocate, or you object to a move, you should seek assistance from an experienced family law attorney.

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