Family Law Weekly Case Review

Case: T.L. v. J.L.

Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham McHale LLP

HELD: In a relocation case, trial court erred when it concluded that Mother failed to meet her burden of demonstrating that the proposed relocation was for a legitimate reason and in good faith. However, since the evidence supported the trial court’s decision that the proposed move was not in the children’s best interests, the trial court’s granting of Father’s motion to prevent relocation was affirmed.

HELD: Court of Appeals clarifies case law that a desire to move to be near family members, for financial reasons, or to obtain/maintain employment constitute “legitimate” and “good faith” reasons for a proposed relocation. In dicta, the Court of Appeals suggested that the first prong of the relocation test – that the reasons for the proposed relocation are legitimate and made in good faith – was not intended to be a bar set too high, so that the trier-of-fact may then move on to the more important second prong of the test: whether the proposed move is in the child’s best interests.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Mother and Father married in 1999, had two children together, and divorced in 2009. The parties shared joint legal custody of the children, with Mother having primary physical custody of the children subject to Father’s parenting time, which was exercised regularly.

Father had been a lifelong resident of Montgomery County, Indiana. Mother moved there, from Tennessee, in 1998 to work for Fujicolor. Mother had intended the Fujicolor job to be a one-year stint, but after meeting Father and getting married, she continued working there until Fujicolor closed its Crawfordsville operations in 2008. Father has extended family in area; Mother has extended family back in Tennessee.

In early 2010, Mother filed a notice of intent to relocate to Tennessee. Mother’s petition stated a variety of reasons for the proposed move: Mother’s older family members are in poor health and need her care; Mother has a better support network in Tennessee; Mother has better employment opportunities in Tennessee; and the children would have an excellent quality of life in Tennessee.  Father objected to Mother’s proposed relocation.

After a hearing, the trial court concluded that Mother had failed to satisfy the first prong of the relocation test, specifically, that Mother “has failed to meet her burden of proof that the proposed relocation is for a legitimate reason and in good faith.” The trial court also noted that Father, while not carrying a burden of proof since Mother had not satisfied hers, nevertheless had “clearly shown that the move would not be in the best interests of the children.” Mother appealed.

On review, the Court of Appeals noted that Mother had advanced various reasons for the move: to be closer to her family in Tennessee, to seek better employment, and to have a better life for the children and for herself. The Court of Appeals, reviewing this issue, noted that:

[O]ur case law has not set forth explicitly the meaning of legitimate and good faith reasons in the relocation context….it is common in our society that people move to live near family members, for financial reasons, or to obtain or maintain employment. We infer that these and similar reasons – such as Mother gave and the trial court largely accepted – are what the legislature intended in requiring that relocation be for “legitimate” and “good faith” reasons. . . . If part one, the requirement of a legitimate and good faith reason, posed an inordinately high bar for a relocating parent to meet, it could too often prevent trial courts from reaching part two and appropriately deciding the dispute based upon the best interests of the affected child.

Thus, the Court of Appeals concluded that Mother had advanced legitimate, good faith reasons for the proposed relocation. Nevertheless, after a detailed review of the factors affecting the children were they to remain in Indiana or relocate to Tennessee, the Court of Appeals concluded that “the evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that relocation was not in the children’s best interests.” As a result, the trial court’s judgment denying Mother’s request to relocate was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: T.L. v. J.L.

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