Relocation after a divorce can become complicated when children are involved since one party often loses parenting time as a result of the other’s move. Most times, the relocating parent will need the court’s approval to move with the child out of state. In Mouton v. Mouton (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2016), the Court of Appeals of Tennessee addressed a lower court’s finding that the mother did not have a reasonable purpose in relocating to Colorado for her employment. After review, the appeals court ultimately reversed the trial court’s decision.
In Mouton, the spouses had divorced in 2015 with a permanent parenting plan that designated the mother as the primary residential parent for their child, with 280 days of parenting time per year. Shortly thereafter, the mother lost her job in Tennessee and accepted an employment offer in Colorado for approximately the same salary. The mother notified the father, who filed a petition in opposition to the removal of the child. Due to the court’s order requiring her to be in Tennessee, the mother was unable to keep that position, but she was offered other employment in her field by a Colorado entrepreneur developing a start-up company. After a hearing, the trial court ruled that there was no reasonable basis for the move, but the mother’s motive for relocation was not vindictive. The mother appealed the decision to the higher court.
In Tennessee, the appropriate analysis for addressing parental relocation depends on the relative amount of time each parent spends with the child. When, as in Mouton, one parent spends substantially more time with the child than the other, there is a presumption in favor of the relocating parent. Specifically, the statute provides that relocation with the child will be permitted unless the court finds that the relocation does not have a reasonable purpose, that the relocation would pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child that outweighs the harm of a change of custody, or that the parent’s motive for relocating with the child is vindictive, in that it is intended to defeat or deter the visitation rights of the other parent.
In determining whether the mother’s proposed move has a reasonable purpose, the appeals court explained that a salary increase and career advancement opportunities can constitute a reasonable purpose for relocation, but there must be more than a mere hope or belief of a better opportunity or a salary increase. There need not, however, be an absolute certainty. In Mouton, the court was satisfied that the mother’s job opportunity was not speculative or uncertain enough to justify the lower court’s decision. The court noted that, although she lost her first job in Colorado due to the present litigation, there was no evidence to suggest she couldn’t find other employment opportunities in Colorado based on her existing business contacts if the start-up company position did not work out. Accordingly, the court found that the relocation was for a reasonable purpose, and it allowed the mother to move to Colorado with the parties’ child.
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