Child Custody & Relocation Rights in Tennessee

By Cindy Chung

Girl (5-7) asleep on plane surrounded by soft toys, next to father

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When parents get a divorce, their custody order or parenting plan establishes each parent's rights. If a parent plans to relocate with the child, both parents should understand the steps for requesting and opposing a potential move. Tennessee child custody laws include several provisions related to parental relocation. In some cases, a state court may prevent a parent from relocating with the child.

Relocation Before Initial Custody

To obtain a court order for custody and visitation, parents generally must open a case in the Tennessee state courts and negotiate a "parenting plan" that includes the child's schedule and explains each parent's legal rights. If parents cannot agree on custody, the court must make the decision for them. If a parent relocates before receiving a custody order, the move might affect the court's view of the family's circumstances when reviewing the custody factors. For example, the court may consider each parent's ability to provide the child with a stable home and continuity. However, Tennessee domestic violence laws specifically protect a parent's right to relocate as a response to child abuse perpetrated by the other parent; in this case, the court cannot use the relocation as a reason to limit the relocating parent's custody rights.

Required Steps for Relocation

After parents receive a court order for custody or have negotiated a parenting plan, either parent might want to change the arrangement because of an impending move. Tennessee parental relocation laws include several requirements that the relocating parent must meet before the move. These laws apply to every parent who "is spending intervals of time with a child," because a move could affect visitation schedules as well as custody. If a parent plans to move to another state, or more than 100 miles from the other parent's current home, the state requires written notice to the other parent at least 60 days before the move. If the parents don't agree to an updated custody and visitation arrangement, the parent who plans to move must file a petition in state court and obtain court approval.

The Child’s Best Interest

When parents cannot agree on a new visitation schedule to accommodate the relocation, a Tennessee court may need to establish a visitation schedule on the parents' behalf. If the moving parent wants to relocate with the child and the other parent opposes the petition to do so, the court must decide whether to allow the child's relocation. In both types of cases, the court must make a decision based on the child's best interest. The court must consider factors such as the child's need for stability, his ties to a community and school, the parents' willingness to follow a court-ordered visitation schedule, the parents' physical and mental health and the child's relationship with each parent.

Reasons to Deny Parental Relocation

Tennessee law specifies several reasons which require the court to deny a parent's petition for relocation. For example, the court may deny permission to relocate if the parent doesn't have a reasonable purpose for the move or if the court believes the relocating parent has a vindictive motive. The court may also deny the petition if the parent plans to relocate with the child to an area that lacks adequate schools or medical facilities to meet the child's needs. In addition, the court might consider the emotional effect on the child or the potential physical harm if the parent plans to move in with someone who has a history of child abuse, domestic violence or substance abuse.