VOL. 132 | NO. 56 | Monday, March 20, 2017
Court Decision Could Make It Easier for Parents to Relocate
By SHEILA BURKE, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – It could become easier for a divorced parent to move out of state with the kids even if the other parent objects to the children relocating, under a new opinion from The Tennessee Supreme Court.
This unanimous decision applies in cases where one parent has more time with the kids than the other.
The court's opinion says state lawmakers had crafted a law making it easier for divorced parents to move if they spend more time with the kids. The Supreme Court said lawmakers were trying to keep legal battles to a minimum by removing much of the discretion away from judges. Still, the state's highest court acknowledged the sadness that comes when one parent moves away with the kids.
"Parental relocation cases are often wrenching, with weighty competing considerations and a profound impact on both parents and children," says the opinion, written by Justice Holly Kirby.
The opinion stemmed from the Clarksville divorce and child custody case of Cassidy and Reynaldo Aragon. The parents, who had one daughter together, divorced in 2010 and agreed to split custody evenly, court documents show. However, the father ended up spending more time with the girl because the mother was often working overseas as a contractor.
The father asked to relocate from Clarksville to Tucson with his daughter so he could be near family and work as a nurse in the same hospital where his mother had worked.
His ex-wife objected and the trial court sided with her, saying the father's relocation request was not reasonable, and that he hadn't even tried to find a nursing job in Tennessee. The Montgomery County judge gave custody of the girl to the mother.
On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court said custody should revert back to the father and the daughter should live with him in Arizona, provided that she has some time for transition.
An attorney for the father said Reynaldo Aragon is thrilled with the decision after fighting so long to have his daughter with him in Arizona. "He has no hard feelings toward the mother," lawyer Steven Girsky said.
The opinion, Girsky said, gave much-needed direction to the lower courts, which had been giving conflicting decisions on the matter.
"It was like a free for all," the lawyer said. "Case law was all over the place.
An attorney for the mother did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
The Supreme Court opinion said that state law allows custodial parents to move away with kids unless it harms the child, is done out of vindictiveness toward the other parent or is unreasonable. The court found that parents don't have to have a substantial or significant reason for relocating, but the purpose has to meet the plain definition of reasonable.
A fathers' right's activist said the court was following the law, but said it shouldn't be so easy for parents to relocate.
Tony Gottlieb knows firsthand about the pain of seeing a child move away. His ex-wife moved his two children from Tennessee to New Mexico. Since then he has been heavily involved with the group DAD of Tennessee.
"It is our opinion that responsible parents who chose to have children should be held to a higher standard and that once becoming a parent you have an obligation to exert every effort to maintain that child's contact with both parents to the greatest degree possible," he said.
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