Graham v. Vaughn: Relocation and Custody

Mother and Father were unmarried parents to a daughter who was born in 2004. The parties lived together only six (6) months after the child’s birth. When the child was eight (8) years old, the Mother notified Father that she intended to move the minor child to Florida with her boyfriend. Father filed immediately to be recognized as the child’s legal/biological father (establishing his paternity), to restrain the Mother from removing the child from the state of Tennessee and to be designated the child’s Primary Residential Parent.

The Mother failed to comply with requirements under Tennessee’s relocation statute: Tennessee Code Annotated §36-6-108.

There was no dispute at the hearing that the Father was the child’s biological and legal father. Also at this initial hearing, the Court allowed the Mother and child to stay in Florida temporarily while the case was pending.

Ultimately, the Court found that the Mother “did not have a reasonable purpose to relocate to Florida with the minor child and therefore is to return to Tennessee with the minor child or allow this Honorable Court to determine custody of the minor child if [Mother] does not wish to return to Tennessee.” Therefore, Mother was designated the child’s Primary Residential Parent so long as she remained in Tennessee.

Mother appealed the Court’s order that would require her to live in Tennessee in order to retain custody.

The procedure for establishing custody for a child born to unmarried parents is governed by Tenn. Code Ann. §36-2-311. The Court of Appeals noted that “the best interests of the child shall be the standard by which the court determines and allocates the parties’ parental responsibilities.” Tenn. Code Ann. §36-6-106.

Some of the factors considered included:

  • The child had attended school in Trousdale County, Tennessee for most of her life
  • Father lives in Tennessee
  • Mother had lived in at least 15 different places since the child’s birth (the child was 8 years old)
  • Mother had difficulty keeping a job
  • The child had significant connections to family in Tennessee

The trial court found that the child had been cared for by the Father and his family on a “regular and daily basis”. The Father’s family had also provided financial help to the Mother and child. Therefore, the Court believed it was in the child’s best interest to live around those who had cared for her on a daily basis since her birth.

The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to designate the Mother as the child’s Primary Residential Parent only so long as she remained in Tennessee. If the Mother chose to relocate to Florida, the Court could consider a new parenting plan.

If you have questions about a relocation or custody case, contact our office today to schedule your free consultation!


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