The last few years have been tough for the economy, and tough on folks who were out of work, or whose jobs didn’t pay them enough to make ends meet. So when I hear about people finding work that really suits them, or will give them a little more breathing room, I’m genuinely happy for them.
But before you take that new job in a different county or a different state, I want you to take a look at the laws in Tennessee regarding parental relocation after a divorce. They’ve changed a bit over the last couple of years, and where you live might affect your existing parenting plan or visitation schedule.
What the law says
The most recent version of the law sets forth what you need to do if you have an existing custody or visitation plan, and you want to move outside of Tennessee, or 50 or more miles within Tennessee. First, you must send a notice to your co-parent’s last known address through registered or certified mail; this ensures that he or she will receive the notice – or create documentation if that address is no longer valid. In that notice, you must give your:
- “Statement of intent to move;
- Location of proposed new residence;
- Reasons for proposed relocation; and
- Statement that the other parent may file a petition in opposition to the move within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice.”
This notice must be mailed no later than 60 days before you plan to move, unless the court agrees otherwise.
Now, if your former spouse says the move is fine, and the two of you can work out a new plan for custody and visitation on your own, you can submit this new plan to the court for consideration. If your ex is unresponsive, or does not agree to changes, you must file a petition with the court to change your existing plan.
You should also remember that your co-parent can file a petition in opposition to your move. He or she will have 30 days within the receipt of your notice to file his or her petition. This is true whether you share equal amount of parenting time, or if your child resides primarily with you. You “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” (emphasis mine). However, if the parent who opposes the relocation fails to file in opposition within the 30-day period, then the parent who wants to relocate may do so, based on case law that came out earlier this year.
How the court determines its position
There are a lot of factors that go into custody and visitation decisions, as I’m sure you remember from the first time. All of those factors must be considered again, because the court’s primary concern is always for the wellbeing of the child. However, courts tend to be understanding about parents needing to move because of a new job, or because of a health problem, or for reasons that can only help you be a better parent. They are less likely to be swayed if they determine:
- Your move serves no “reasonable purpose”
- Your plan is vindictive in nature, i.e., you’re moving to punish or spite your ex-spouse
- Relocating could harm your child in some way, or could pose the threat of harm to your child
That last part, about potentially harming your child, can mean a lot of things. For example, if your new place is far away from hospitals or doctors’ offices, and your child has a medical condition or is at-risk of suffering, the judge may not side with you. If your child has specific educational needs that can no longer be met if you move, the judge may revise your visitation schedule. If you plan on moving in with a new significant other who has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, the court is unlikely to allow your child to remain in your custody.
These are but a few examples of the challenges Tennessee parents face after a divorce. This is why it is so important that you work with a lawyer if you need to change any aspect of your parenting plan. As a Maryville family law attorney, I have helped parents just like you work through the complex challenges that often pop up after you think everything is settled.
Whether you wish to relocate but are afraid you’ll lose time with your child, or your former spouse wants to relocate and you have some concerns, I can help. Please contact my law firm, Shepherd and Associates, P.C. by filling out this contact form or by calling 865.225.9655.When you need a Maryville divorce lawyer to help you, I will be there.