Tennessee Relocation Case: Calculating Days of Parenting Time (Heilig v. Heilig)

This was a post-divorce parent relocation case. Father notified Mother that he intended to move with the parties’ minor son from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Georgia. The move would place the Father and child approximately 3.5 hours from the Mother. Mother opposed the move, claiming that she spent substantially equal intervals of time with the child and that the move was not in the child’s best interest.

When the parties were divorced, their original parenting plan designated the mother as the primary residential parent for the child, and there was a 50/50 parenting schedule. The Tennessee permanent parenting plan had been amended several times since the divorce. By the time of the relocation, Father was the child’s primary residential parent, and he spent 233 days per year with the child. This left the Mother with only 132 days per year.

Father was moving because he had been offered an employment position as a Paster of Student Ministries in Georgia. He accepted this position after being laid off from his prior job and being unable to obtain new employment in the Chattanooga area.

Mother testified that she had cared for the child for an additional 15 days during the past year (in addition to what she was guaranteed under the parties’ Tennessee parenting plan). She also asked the court to take into consideration the substantial amount of time she spent with the child outside of her actual parenting time by stating that she had spent a total of 311 hours parenting the child as follows: volunteering at his school, accompanying him to sporting events (practices and games), etc. She asked that the Court take those 311 hours and divide that by 8 for a total of 38 additional days to be credited to the Mother. While Father agreed that Mother had seen the child for the additional 14 days, but he disputed that the Court should consider the additional 311 hours.

The trial court found that the Father spent substantially more time with the child than the Mother, which affected the Mother’s burden of proof. In a Tennessee relocation case, where parents are spending substantially equal amounts of time with the child(ren), the court will only consider whether the move is in the best interest of the child(ren). However, when the parents do not have close to equal parenting time, the burden is on the parent opposing relocation to prove that the relocation is vindictive or has no reasonable purpose. Otherwise, the parent requesting to relocate will be allowed to do so.

The Tennessee Supreme Court addressed this burden of proof in Kawatra v. Kawatra, 182 S.W. 3d 800, 802-803:

The approach differs if the parents are “not actually spending substantially equal intervals of time with the child.” If the parent spending the greater amount of time with the child seeks to relocate with the child, the court shall permit the relocation unless it finds that: 1) the relocation fails to have a reasonable purpose; 2) the relocation poses a threat of “specific and serious harm” to the child that outweighs the threat of harm that a change of custody would pose to the child; or 3) the parent has a vindictive motive for relocating. If one or more of these grounds exist, the court shall determine whether relocation is in the child’s best interests.

The Court addressed Mother’s request that these 311 hours be taken into consideration by looking to the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines for calculating days of parenting time. The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines state that:

For purposes of this chapter, a ‘day’ of parenting time occurs when the child spends more than twelve (12) consecutive hours in a twenty-four (24) hour period under the care, control or direct supervision of one parent or caretaker. The twenty-four (24) hour period need not be the same as a twenty-four (24) hour calendar day. Accordingly, a “day” of parenting time may encompass either an overnight period or a daytime period, or a combination thereof.

1240-2-4.02(10).

Therefore, the trial court found that the 311 additional hours did not constitute a “day” pursuant to the rules of law the court had to consider. The trial court stated that, “calculating parenting time by lumping together various scattered hours spent with the child at sports practices or at school, and dividing the total by 8 under a “waking hours” theory, does not comport with the parent relocation statute, the Child Support Guidelines’ definition of ‘a day’, or case law precedent….”

Even with the additional 14 days per year, the Mother only spent 40% of the year with the minor child. The Appellate Court held that a 60/40 split does not amount to substantially equal parenting time.

The parent opposing relocation bears the burden of proof to establish one of these three grounds, and if he or she fails to do so, the relocation shall be permitted.

The trial court ultimately found that the Mother failed to prove the Father’s relocation had no reasonable purpose, that the relocation would pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child or that the Father’s motive was vindictive. Therefore, the Father was allowed to relocate with the child to Georgia.

If you have questions about a relocation case or how days are calculated for your child support, contact our office to schedule a free consultation!

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