Bramlett v. Bramlett, (Tenn.Ct.App. filed February 13, 2018)
Trial Court: This case involves mother’s attempt to relocate with the parties’ minor child. Mother, the primary residential parent, sought to move from Cleveland, Tennessee to Greeneville, Tennessee, a distance of approximately 160 miles. Mother sent notice to father of her intent to relocate. The notice indicated that mother intended to relocate because she had remarried and intended to move into her husband’s residence. Father responded with a petition objecting to the relocation. The trial court entered an order allowing mother to move, finding that the move had a reasonable purpose and was not vindictive or meant to interfere with father’s co-parenting time. The trial court’s opinion included the following:
From all of the evidence, father failed to meet his burden of proof to demonstrate by the preponderance of the evidence that mother’s relocation with the child lacks a reasonable
purpose or is vindictive.
The court finds that the reason and purpose of mother’s move is “economically sufficient to justify relocation with the child”, and is “economically” much more feasible than her current living conditions here in Bradley County. Mother’s move to Greeneville, Tennessee will allow her and her daughter the economic advantages attendant to living in a
home of their own rather than with their extended relatives as they do now. . . . [T]he court finds: that the mother is a wage earner of limited means, doing menial labor; that her new husband’s home is ancestral property owned by him; that mother will probably be able to obtain similar employment in the new location; that it is economically beneficial for mother to live with her husband rather than with her relatives as she and the child now live; that it would pose economic hardship and uncertainty upon mother, the child and her husband for him to seek employment in mother’s present locale, which the court finds is not economically feasible because of the fact he would be selling and moving from his present home. The court concludes that . . . mother’s move with her child is for a reasonable purpose and is not designed or intended by her to defeat father’s shared parenting rights.
Court of Appeals: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Court of Appeals began by discussing the Aragon v. Aragon case.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has recently clarified the framework to be utilized in determining whether a parent may relocate with a child pursuant to the provisions of Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108. In Aragon v. Aragon, the Supreme Court explained that, once a primary residential parent seeking to relocate provides notice of his/her intent to relocate, the burden of proof is on the parent opposing the relocation to prove one of the enumerated grounds in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108(d)(1). “If the burden of proof is not carried, the trial court is obliged to grant permission for the relocation.” The court explained that “[t]he statute includes a presumption in favor of permitting relocation . . . .”
In the case before us, because mother spends the greater amount of time with the child, father has the burden of proving one of the three grounds for denying a petition to
relocate. With respect to whether the relocation would pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child, at trial, father conceded that this ground is not at issue.
Father claims that mother’s proposed relocation is vindictive and intended to defeat or deter his visitation with the child. He, however, fails to establish that mother’s motive for relocating to live with her new husband is, in any way, vindictive. With respect to mother’s proposed relocation being vindictive, father’s counsel stated that “the point of that argument is that it’s already difficult for [father] to exercise his time, but this is going to make it more difficult . . . .” While the move will clearly require more travel time for father to exercise his visitation rights, that alone does not demonstrate that mother’s motive for relocating is vindictive. Father’s bears the burden of proving that mother’s motive is vindictive in that it is “intended to defeat or deter [his] visitation rights . . . .” Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108(d)(1)(C). The fact that exercising his visitation rights would be more difficult if mother relocates does not prove that her motive is vindictive. We hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that father failed to meet his burden of proving that mother’s motive for relocating is vindictive.
Father also claims that mother’s proposed relocation has no reasonable purpose.To support this claim, father relies on the following assertions: (1) mother’s move will not advance her pay, and she will actually make less in Greeneville; (2) mother has no relatives in Greeneville; (3) both mother’s and father’s extended families live in Bradley County; (4) it is unknown whether mother’s new husband attempted to obtain a job closer to mother’s residence in Bradley County; and (5) mother’s husband eventually took a job making less than he was making at the time of the notice of intent to relocate. As discussed in this opinion, the parent opposing relocation bears the burden of proving that the proposed relocation “has no reasonable purpose at all.” In this case, father has failed to demonstrate that mother’s proposed relocation has no reasonable purpose. Rather than demonstrating that the move has no reasonable purpose, father focuses on a potential decrease in mother’s and her husband’s pay. Father also focuses on the location of the child’s extended family. These facts fail to demonstrate how mother’s proposed relocation has no reasonable purpose.Based upon the record, mother has proposed to relocate with the child because she has remarried and intends to move out of her current residence with her relatives and into her husband’s ancestral home. To us, this is a reasonable purpose for mother to relocate.