Tennessee Parent Relocation Law Video

Tennessee move away statute. How to win a relocation custody case. Can a mother move a child away from the father in Tennessee? Can I move out of state with my child without father’s permission TN? Moving out of state with child no custody agreement in Tennessee.

Tennessee parent relocation law is codified in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108. Using four relocation case examples, we’ll offer some perspective from notice-of-intent-to-relocate to objection and litigation.  Visit MemphisDivorce.com for additional discussion of relocation law. Our Tennessee Family Law Blog sorts appellate opinions by relocation granted and relocation denied.

Can a mother move a child away from the father in Tennessee?

Can a mother move a child away from the father in Tennessee?

Can a mother move a child away from the father in Tennessee?

Having a final custody order or permanent parenting plan does not mean you or the other parent can move anywhere, anytime, for any reason. This is not an “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” situation. Comply with the move-away statute. Understand, most relocation cases end with modified permanent parenting plans.

Tennessee move away statute

Does the relocation statute apply to your Tennessee custody case? It does if three conditions are met:

  1. You have a permanent parenting plan or final custody order.
  2. The parent planning to move away spends intervals of time with the child.
  3. The move is either to another state or more than 50 miles from the other parent but still within Tennessee.

You Should Consult an Experienced Family Lawyer

Because relocation impacts custody, these cases hinge on the best interests of the child standard. As you already know, making that determination can be challenging.

The practical reality? Parents residing in two different cities is rarely considered in the best interest of the child. Consequently, the most difficult question to answer in court is “Why this time?”

Why is having parents reside in two different cities rather than the same city in this child’s best interest?

Reasons a judge will deny relocation

Judicial bias in these cases is not what most people think. Family law judging is about the application of law to specific situations. Judges are taught to make every effort not to be biased. However, many cases boil down to deciding on the child’s best interest. Judges are human beings who also have legal experience.  On top of that, legal rulings are understandably impacted by:

  • The judge’s experience as a judge and lawyer;
  • The judge’s experience in life as a parent; and
  • The judge’s experience from childhood.

No one can predict how a judge will view the facts from any particular case. Be prepared for this challenge. Argue the law. Make the best points you can. Hire an experienced family lawyer to navigate this legal minefield.

Tennessee Relocation Law Changed (Again) in 2018.  Tennessee’s parent relocation statute changed dramatically in 2018, affecting all move-away cases filed on or after July 1, 2018.

Prior relocation cases involving parents who did not share roughly equal parenting time may no longer be valid. Prior relocation cases involving parents who did share roughly equal parenting time may still be relevant. This is important.  An experienced attorney will know which cases can still be relied upon in legal arguments.

Prior to July 1, 2018, the court had to determine whether the parents had been spending substantially equal amounts of time with the child, and also whether there was a reasonable purpose for the proposed move.

Both criteria were removed from the statute for cases filed on or after July 1, 2018. Judges now have greater discretion when granting or denying relocation. As you’ll see, there is no presumption for or against relocation.

Where does the relocation process begin?

Sending Notice of Intent to Relocate to the Other Parent

The first step is notifying the other parent. The relocating parent has 60 days before moving to mail written notice to the other parent by registered or certified mail.

Notice of Intent to Relocate includes the parent’s:

(1) Statement of intent to move;

(2) Location of proposed new residence;

(3) Reasons for proposed relocation; and

(4) Statement that absent agreement between the parents or an objection by the nonrelocating parent within 30 days of the date notice is sent by registered or certified mail … the relocating parent will be permitted to do so by law.[i] (Is this parent fleeing domestic violence? The court could excuse notice for exigent circumstances.)

If there is no objection from the other parent, then the move can take place. But what if the other parent does object? Many do! What if the objecting parent files an opposition pleading?

How to win a relocation custody case

How to win a relocation custody case

How to win a relocation custody case

In a pending case, the judge makes findings on each relocation factor in the statute. Those findings are detailed in the court’s order granting or denying the relocation. If there is an appeal, these findings will be reviewed by the appellate court.  The result of an appeal is recorded in an appellate opinion, also described as an appellate case.

Was relocation granted?

If granted, then the court modifies the permanent parenting plan, factoring in the distance between parents’ residences. Emphasis is on fostering and continuing the child’s relationship with – and access to – the other parent. Transportation costs for visitation are considered, as is a possible deviation from the child support guidelines.

Was relocation denied?

If denied, then the court enters a modified permanent parenting plan that only becomes effective if the parent chooses to relocate anyway, but without the child. The custody factors in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106(a) apply in this scenario.

Commonalities among Relocation Disputes

Relocation matters have common footprints, patterns that experienced family lawyers prepare for.

  • The notice of intent to relocate was defective.

Defective notice was sent to the other parent. This happened in Charlie v. Charlie, but did not prevent a decision on the merits. We’ll discuss Charlie v. Charlie shortly. (Note, we have changed the names of the appellate rulings for privacy concerns.  The case citations can be found on our web site, MemphisDivorce.com.)

  • The non-moving parent objects to relocation.

The proponent of relocation may file a petition requesting the move-away be granted over the other parent’s objection. A court matter proceeds.

The objecting parent may answer with an opposition filing and may counter-petition for modified parenting time, a change of primary residential parent, or some other custody matter. This happened in Beta v. Beta which we’ll also discuss.

  • A relocation trial is held.

The mother, father, child, grandparents, stepparents, expert witnesses (including an independent child custody evaluator), and others testify in court.

The trial court weighs the evidence against each statutory relocation factor and decides in the best interests of the child. As you’ll see, the testimony of an expert witness in Alpha v. Alpha carried little weight. The judge either grants or denies the relocation. Either parent may appeal the final judgment.

  • Proceedings held on appeal.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reviews the trial court’s factual findings de novo with a presumption of correctness, unless the preponderance of evidence in the record is otherwise.

This is not a new trial. The appeals court walks through each relocation factor in Section 36-6-108(c). It applies the law to the evidence in the trial court record. The judgment will be affirmed unless there was an abuse of judicial discretion or error. The costs of appeal may be divided or assessed entirely to the non-prevailing party.

Can I move out of state with my child without father’s permission TN?

How to win a relocation custody case

How to win a relocation custody case

When one parent still wants to relocate despite the other parent’s objection, then a court order allowing the move is required. The cases highlighted today involved moves to Texas, Ohio, Alabama, and Germany.

Pay attention to specific circumstances, including travel distances, support arrearages, stepsiblings and blended families, extended family, and the child’s preference. Who was the primary residential parent (or PRP)? How much parenting time was actually exercised? How well do the parents resolve disputes over the child? These facts matter.

Moving out of state with child no custody agreement Tennessee

Because permanent parenting plans frequently designate the mother as PRP of a young child, with less parenting time to the father, preventing a mother’s relocation could be more challenging. The father opposing the move needs to present a strong evidentiary case, as occurred in our final case example, Delta v. Delta.

For the best possible outcome, hire an experienced family law attorney. Familiarize yourself with each move-away factor. What evidence is relevant? How does the court weigh the evidence? One piece of evidence may apply to more than one factor.

Eight relocation factors are set forth in Section 36-6-108(c).

(A) The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the parent proposing to relocate and with the nonrelocating parent, siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life;

(B) The age, developmental stage, needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;

(C) The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child through suitable visitation arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties;

(D) The child’s preference, if the child is 12 years of age or older. The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preference of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children;

(E) Whether there is an established pattern of conduct of the relocating parent, either to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the nonrelocating parent;

(F) Whether the relocation of the child will enhance the general quality of life for both the relocating parent and the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity;

(G) The reasons of each parent for seeking or opposing the relocation; and

(H) Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child, including those enumerated in Section 36-6-106(a).

Let’s look at some cases.

Case 1: Relocation granted in Alpha v. Alpha.[ii]

In 2021, the Shelby County Circuit Court granted the mother’s petition to relocate after getting a Texas job offer.

When the parents divorced in 2014, their child was two. The mother was the primary residential parent under the permanent parenting plan, and the father exercised substantial visitation. They made major decisions jointly, but the mother had final decision-making authority. Both lived in Memphis before and after the divorce.

In 2019, the mother was offered a position in Texas at Houston Medical Center. She notified the father of her intent to relocate with the child. When he objected, she filed a petition to relocate.

The case was tried in January 2020. Because the trial court found that relocation was in the child’s best interests, the petition to relocate was granted. The father appealed.

The issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in allowing relocation. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the relocation order.

[T]he trial court methodically analyzed each relocation factor against the evidence. The evidence demonstrates that relocation will provide the Child with an increased standard of living, better educational opportunities than what he would have in Memphis, and the additional support of his maternal grandparents. Although the trial court noted that the Child’s relocation to Houston would undoubtedly alter the nature of the Child’s relationship with Father, the evidence shows that the two would still be able to foster a meaningful relationship, albeit from different cities.”

The trial court analyzed each relevant relocation factor to determine whether moving was in the child’s best interest. The mother, father, clinical child psychologist as expert witness, child’s maternal grandmother, and mother’s ex-fiancé testified at trial. Because trial courts are in the best position to weigh witness credibility, the appeals court reviewed the evidentiary rulings under an abuse of discretion standard.

Factor (A): The child’s relationship with each parent, sibling, and other significant person favored the mother.

  • The mother performed most of the parenting responsibilities.
  • The father was continually present in the child’s life.
  • The child had no relationship with his half-sister (the father’s daughter from another relationship).
  • The maternal grandmother also intended to move to Texas.

Factor (B): The child’s needs and likely impact of relocation favored the mother.

  • The child was autistic with ADHD. The father argued for continuity of treatment in Tennessee.
  • The father’s expert witness testified that relocation would be disruptive and exacerbate the child’s autism and ADHD. However, the trial court did not find the expert’s testimony persuasive:

“Father called … a clinical child psychologist, as an expert witness to testify that relocation would be particularly disruptive to the Child and would ‘exacerbate’ his ADHD and autism symptoms. The trial court was not persuaded by [his] testimony. The trial court noted that the [psychologist] did not interview Mother or the Child and relied exclusively on his review of the Child’s medical records as the basis for his opinion that relocation would exacerbate the Child’s ADHD and autism symptoms.”

  • The mother introduced evidence of the quality of schools in Texas. She would move to a specific Houston neighborhood in a highly rated school district. Much better rated than the child’s current school.

Factor (C): The feasibility of preserving the relationship with the non-relocating parent favored the father. 

  • The father’s relationship with the child will change with a 500-mile move to Texas.
  • Two-hour direct daily flights were available between Memphis and Houston.
  • The mother would give father most, if not all, holidays with the child so they could have longer periods of time together.

Factor (D): The young child did not testify as to a preference.

Factor (E): On any established pattern of conduct by the relocating parent to either promote or thwart the child’s relationship with the other parent, mother’s testimony was credible.

  • The mother testified to the importance of having the father in the child’s life.
  • She chose a new city where father-and-child could easily travel for visits.

Factor (F): The extent relocation would enhance the quality of life of both parent and child favored the mother.

  • The financial benefit to mother’s “dream job” was substantial. Review of the record supported the trial court’s finding:

“[H]er income at the time of the hearing was $81,000.00 per year. As [a] Director … at the Houston Medical Center, Mother’s base salary would be $122,000.00 per year with an annual 10% bonus. Additionally, the Houston job offered a $25,000.00 relocation package and annual merit increases. Accordingly, Mother’s first year salary would be $147,000.00 (not including the 10% bonus), a substantial increase from her salary in Memphis. Further … the record supports the trial court’s finding that the maternal grandmother would provide after school care for the Child, which financially benefits Mother.”

Factor (G): Parents’ reasons for or against relocation favored the father.

  • Because of the distance, relocation would dramatically alter the father’s visitation.
  • He would not see the child as often and would not be involved in his child’s day-to-day activities.

Some factors weighed in favor of relocation, some against it. The appeals court concluded there was no abuse of discretion or error by the trial court in finding relocation was in the child’s best interests. The mother had established her case. The father was assessed the costs of appeal.

Factor (H): No other best interest factors were raised.

Some factors weighed in favor of relocation, some against it. The appeals court concluded there was no abuse of discretion or error by the trial court and affirmed the judgment. The mother established that relocation was in the child’s best interest, and the father was assessed the costs of appeal.


Case 2: Relocation granted in Beta v. Beta (2022)[iii]

The mother’s relocation petition was granted by the Sumner County Circuit Court. The father was awarded increased visitation.

The parents divorced in 2019 when the child was 18 months old. Their MDA and permanent parenting plan were incorporated into the divorce decree. The mother was designated the PRP, and the father had 95 days of parenting time.

In 2020, the mother provided notice of relocation. She was engaged to a man from Ashville, Ohio, residing 316 miles away. The father objected. She then filed a petition to relocate. The father opposed the petition and counter-petitioned for modified custody.

The judge heard testimony from the father, mother, mother’s current husband, mother’s former sister-in-law, and the child’s paternal grandmother. The court determined that relocation was in the child’s best interests, granting the request to relocate with the child. More specifically, the move would augment the mother and child’s quality of life because the new husband earned a good income. The father was granted 97 days of parenting time, a two-day increase. The parties were ordered to share transportation responsibilities equally. The father appealed.

Here’s what the record of the trial court’s fact-finding revealed:

  • The mother was primary caregiver. She had more co-parenting time since the divorce and had a strong bond with the child. This “weighed heavily” in the trial court’s analysis.
  • Neither party believed the other to be a bad parent. They were not a high conflict couple and worked well together for the benefit of their child.
  • The father was a good provider with a demanding work schedule. But he only exercised 49 parenting time days in 2019 and 66 days in 2020.
  • The child had a significant bond with her grandparents, all of whom resided in Tennessee.
  • The mother’s relationship with her family in Tennessee was volatile.
  • The child had a close, loving relationship with the stepfather and same-age stepsister.
  • The new husband had 50/50 parenting time with his daughter.
  • The elementary schools in Ohio and Tennessee were comparable regarding test scores. The smaller Ohio school was more beneficial with a lower student-teacher ratio. The child’s dance lessons and other extracurricular activities could continue.
  • On improving mother and child’s quality of life, the new husband had significant income and assets that improved mother’s financial situation. Also, the mother’s earning capacity was slightly higher in Ohio.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s relocation order. The costs of appeal were assessed 50/50.


Case 3: Relocation denied in Charlie v. Charlie[iv]

The Davidson County Juvenile Court denied the mother’s relocation petition.

A key factor for the trial court was the feasibility of preserving the child’s relationship with his father. Both the mother and stepfather exhibited “disdain” for the father, and the mother’s conduct tended to limit or prevent the father’s co-parenting time.

These are the more important arguments.

In 2011, the child was born in Alabama to unmarried parents. The father moved to Tennessee and was followed shortly thereafter by the mother and child.

After a domestic violence incident in 2015, the couple separated. (The mother filed for a protective order, but the case was dismissed.) The mother became the primary caregiver while the father had occasional visitation. In 2017, he petitioned for co-parenting time and exercised it regularly thereafter.

The mother married in 2018. Two children were born from that relationship. The family planned to move to Alabama. The mother sent notice of intent to relocate by certified mail to the father, but it came back unclaimed. Her attorney sent a second certified letter. The mother then filed a petition to relocate, and the father filed his response in opposition.

In 2019, the case was heard by the juvenile court magistrate. The mother’s petition was denied, and the father was awarded equal parenting time.

The mother sought a de novo rehearing before the Judge of the Juvenile Court. The hearing was held in August 2020. These are some highlights.


  • She lived in Alabama for 30 years before moving to Tennessee in 2011.
  • Her extended family live in Alabama. So do the stepfather’s.
  • She secured gainful employment for better pay in Alabama.
  • The stepfather is employed in Alabama and made living arrangements for the family.
  • The child has been bullied at his current school. The school in Alabama is more favorable.
  • Father initially agreed to the relocation but changed his mind after receiving the relocation notice.
  • She has a good relationship with the child. The child enjoys being with his siblings.
  • The father’s work schedule prevents him from spending much time with the child during parenting time. The child spends most of parenting time with the father’s girlfriend who was “charged with aggravated child abuse but that the charges have since been dismissed.”
  • She “expressed a willingness to facilitate a healthy relationship between Father and Child.”


  • He is involved with his child, is employed, has a suitable residence, and provides for his child.
  • He has a good relationship with his child.
  • The mother does not communicate with him and tends to “run the show.”
  • He is active in the nonprofit Distinguished Black Gentlemen Association. The child attends his meetings with DBGA members. The DBGA went to his child’s school on alternating Fridays to meet with children who may need help working through emotional and disciplinary issues.
  • The mother refused to comply with the parenting schedule and interfered with his co-parenting time. He was awarded make-up time by the court in 2018.
  • He confirmed the stepfather’s testimony regarding relationship difficulties, “disdain,” and unfavorable feelings toward each other.
  • He “would facilitate a close relationship between Child and Mother.”


  • He wants to remain in Tennessee to ensure he maintains a close relationship with his father and mother.

The juvenile court denied mother’s petition to relocate with the child and she appealed.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reviewed the trial court’s factual findings de novo upon the record. The trial court’s determinations regarding witness credibility carry great weight and shall not be disturbed absent “clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.” Deciding the evidence supported the trial court’s findings, the appeals court affirmed the relocation denial. The costs of appeal were taxed to the mother.


Case 4: Relocation denied in Delta v. Delta (2020)[v]

The Montgomery County Circuit Court denied the mother’s relocation petition.

The parents met in Germany where the father was stationed in the U.S. Army. In 2006, they married, and their child was born. Both mother and child have dual citizenship.

In their 2015 Tennessee divorce, mother’s request to move with the child to Germany was denied. She was designated the Primary Residential Parent while the father had 137 days parenting time.

In 2017, the father moved to Missouri. The parties adjusted his parenting time because of the distance. In 2018, he moved in with his fiancé and her two children in Missouri.

In 2019, the mother sent notice to the father of her intent to relocate with the child to Germany. He filed a petition opposing relocation and requested he be named Primary Residential Parent. In mid-2019, she moved to Germany without the child.

The mother, father, father’s fiancé, and the child’s adult half-sister testified at the August 2019 hearing. After applying Tennessee’s relocation factors to the evidence, the trial court determined the move was not in the child’s best interests. The court denied relocation, designated the father the Primary Residential Parent, and modified the permanent parenting plan. The mother appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

The appeals court upheld all the trial court’s findings, pointing out that “Mother is proposing to move Child to a different continent.” There was no error or abuse of discretion. The judgment was affirmed with the costs of appeal assessed against the mother.

Of particular interest is the child’s testimony. The 13-year-old capably expressed his desire “to live with my dad here in America and in an American School.”

The trial court did not err or place undue emphasis or weight upon the child’s wishes. On the weight afforded, the appeals court explained:

“[W]hen a trial court is reasonably satisfied that a child has not been manipulated and the child’s reasons for his preference are not frivolous, ‘it is permissible, indeed important, to give significant weight to the child’s testimony on the parent with whom he wants to live.'”

The trial court considered there were more people in the child’s life at home (in the U.S.) than in Germany. Contrary to the mother’s and half-sister’s testimony, the child testified, “I don’t really know anybody in Germany.” He wanted to live in St. Louis “with all my family there.”

The child’s physical, educational, and emotional needs weighed in favor of the father. The child had ADHD with some minor special needs which both parents were equipped to meet.

The child was not fluent in German and did not believe he would do well in German school. He said, “I’ve always really wanted to live with my dad. It’s always been what I wanted, and I don’t think I would do good in German school at all.” Whether he thought he could excel if he applied himself, “Possibly, yes, but it would take time.”

As for enhancing the quality of life for both the mother and child, this favored the father.

As for each parent’s reason for seeking or opposing relocation, this favored the mother. The appeals court agreed:

Mother gave compelling reasons for her desire to move back to her home country, including a lack of social and familial support in Clarksville; better financial and vocational opportunities and state-provided benefits in Germany; and family and social support in Germany. Her decision to relocate is understandable and rational.”

A final relevant factor was father’s accumulated arrearages of child support, alimony, and retirement pay which favored the mother. However, the father paid a lump sum to the mother before filing his petition, clearing up all arrearages.

As helpful as case examples can be, every relocation case involves unique circumstances. Proceedings are conducted in various courts, before judges who have substantial discretion.

If you or the other parent intend to relocate for a job, remarriage, to be close to extended family, or for any other legitimate reason, include consulting with an experienced family lawyer in your plan

Tennessee relocation law is a legal minefield. No one can predict with certainty how a judge will view the facts in any particular case. You need be prepared.  You must be ready to argue the law and make the best points you can.

Our Tennessee Family Law Blog sorts appellate opinions by relocation granted and relocation denied.

This video presentation is not a substitute for legal advice. Consult an experienced family lawyer in your area for specific legal advice. Local jurisdictions may have important differences in legal terms, forms, procedures, requirements, rules, and exceptions to rules. Laws evolve and change with the passage of time. Forms may not follow exactly what the law requires at the moment.


[i] Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108(a).

[ii] No. W2020–00285-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 24,  2021).

[iii] No. M2021–00757-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 24, 2022).

[iv] No. M2021-00161-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2022).

[v] No. M2020-00277-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App., Sept. 23, 2020).

Copyright © 2023 Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC   - Disclaimer