Tennessee Parent Relocation: Your Complete Guide

Let’s be honest: moving was never an easy process, even while you were married. Unfortunately, now that you’re divorced, that process just leveled up in difficulty.

Instead of being able to move whenever you want, wherever you want, divorced parents are limited by the geographic boundaries of their custody order. Even custodial parents—who normally get to make decisions about where their child will live—cannot up and relocate whenever they want.

If you are a custodial parent in Tennessee, and need to move outside your geographic boundaries, then it may be time to file a parental relocation suit. 

Here’s what you need to know about that process, and what the Byrd Law team can do to help you.


Parental Relocation: 101

In legal speak, parental relocation is a phrase that essentially means “moving somewhere else with your child.” This process is limited to parents who do not live together, and who have an official custody order governing their respective interactions with their child.

Not all relocations require court approval. All do, however, require custodial parents to at least inform the court, before splitting town. If the move is too far away, however, then more steps will be required.

The reason Tennessee courts are so particular about when, how, and where you move, is twofold:

  1. To protect parental rights
  2. Ensure the best interests of the child are met


Parental Rights

Whether your child is adopted or biological, your role as a parent comes with certain, inherent rights. Among these rights is the right to access your child. 

“Access” is part of physical custody, and refers to a parent’s right to spend time with their child. This includes the right to enjoy in-person face time with your child, and also to live under the same roof, where you can nature, care for, and raise your child the way you see fit.

Parental relocation laws protect a non-custodial parent’s right to utilize this access, by prohibiting custodial parents from relocating to a place that would make it harder for a non-custodial parent to execute visitation.

It’s not just parents who benefit from this arrangement, however; it’s the kids, too.


Best Interest of the Child

Tennessee courts have long held that a child’s best interest is served when allowed to cultivate a loving, healthy relationship with both parents, whenever possible. But that can’t happen without time—something that’s much easier to accommodate when both parents live in the same geographic region.

Hence, Tennessee custody orders are almost always drafted to include geographic boundaries. These boundaries ensure that a child can experience quality time with both parents, helping them to cultivate each relationship as they get older.


Geographic Boundaries

Geographic boundaries are a kind of mileage restriction, and limit a custodial parent’s mobility to within a certain area. 

In Tennessee, the standard limitation is fifty miles from the non-custodial parent’s home. (Though, this standard can be changed to suit your family’s unique situation, if you both agree and a judge approves.)

But what happens if this isn’t enough? Are you out of luck if that job transfer wants to take you outside that golden line? Not necessarily.

Luckily, Tennessee legislatures are human, too. They understand that sometimes life throws you curveballs, which may require you to move outside the standard boundaries. That’s why they’ve provided a relocation process.

Parental Relocation: Move Away Statutes

Once a custody order has been established by final order, a custodial parent who wants to move outside the geographic boundaries will need to file a written notice with the court.

These parental relocation suits, (or “move away statutes”), are not necessary for every move, and only come into play if a custodial parent wants to move:

  1. More than fifty miles away from the other parent’s home; or,
  2. Out of the state of Tennessee.

If the proposed move is within these limitations, then there is no formal process. Anything outside these parameters, however, will require written notice.


Written Notice

In order to be valid, your official move away request must include:

  1. A statement of your intent to move. 
  2. The location of your proposed new residence. 
  3. The reasons why you want to move. 
  4. A statement acknowledging that your child’s other parent will have thirty days to file a “Petition in Opposition to Move.” 

The court may deny any notice that doesn’t meet these requirements, so it’s important to make sure you get it right the first time (especially if your move is time-sensitive).

Once you’ve double-checked the details, you must post this notice to the court via certified mail no later than sixty days before the date of your proposed move.


Opposition to Move Away Requests

Your child’s other parent will have thirty days to respond to oppose your move away request. This is done by filing a “Petition in Opposition to Move.”

At this time, you’ll have the chance to revise custody on your own—either as individuals, or through mediation. If you are unable to reach an agreement, however, then you’ll be assigned a relocation hearing.

At your hearing, your judge will listen to arguments on both sides, and weigh the various factors of your situation, some of which include: 

  • The terms in your current order;
  • Whether or not the non-custodial parent has been exercising visitation;
  • Whether the custodial parent is likely to uphold a new visitation order; 
  • The difficulty of exercising visitation in the new location;
  • The child’s relationship with each parent;
  • The quality of care given by the custodial parent; 
  • The importance of stability in the child’s life; 
  • The child’s need for continuity and community; 
  • The child’s preference (if over twelve); as well as,
  • Any evidence of abuse or neglect.

Based on this information, your judge will either grant or deny modification, according to what outcome will serve your child’s best interest.


Moving Without Permission

It should probably go without saying, but moving before you have court approval would not be wise.

Until a judge says otherwise, your current custody order is your own, personal law, and failure to uphold these obligations could have serious legal ramifications, some of which could include contempt of court, jail time, and a loss of your own parental rights.

Moving your child outside geographic boundaries could even be tantamount to parental kidnapping—especially if there are international custody issues involved.


What About Non-Custodial Parents?

Non-custodial parents are not restricted by Tennessee’s parental relocation laws. 

This is because, as a non-custodial parent, you do not have the legal authority to make decisions about where your child lives in the first place. As a result, you are free to move wherever you want without putting your parental rights in jeopardy.

That being said, moving outside the boundary could end up negating your ex’s obligation to uphold your current visitation arrangement.

If you are a non-custodial parent, and have received a move-away request, contact your attorney right away. These matters are time-sensitive and can be approved without your consent if you wait too long.


Parental Relocation Attorney in Tennessee

Whether because of job loss, death, illness, or other unforeseen circumstances, a custody order’s geographic boundaries don’t always work the way we need them to. That’s why Tennessee courts will sometimes allow adjustments, under certain circumstances.

For more questions about parental relocation in Tennessee, we want to hear from you. Call the Byrd Law team at (423) 304-6827, or contact us online, and let us help figure out the best solution for your family’s situation.

Author Bio

Sam Byrd is the owner and managing attorney at The Law Office of Sam Byrd. With hands-on experience in divorce, family law, criminal law, and DUI/DWI cases, Sam has been serving clients in Tennessee since 2012. He graduated with a J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2012 and holds a B.S. in Legal Studies from the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2009.

He began his legal career as a paralegal, working under his father’s guidance. Prior to that, Sam served in the United States Marine Corps as a member of the 2/7 Weapons Company stationed at 29 Palms, California.

Sam has received several accolades for his work, including being recognized as a Rising Star in Divorce & Family Law by Tennessee SuperLawyers in 2020, 2019, and 2018. He is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 under 40, an exclusive professional organization for top trial lawyers under the age of 40. Sam’s commitment to continuous learning and improvement is demonstrated by his certifications in Trial Skills from the National College of DUI Defense in 2019 and 2018.

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