Relocation Not in Best Interest of Child

Case: Traci Nelson v. Tony Nelson  by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: The trial court reviewing Mother’s requested relocation erred when it found that Mother’s proposed relocation was not advanced in good faith. However, the trial court nevertheless reached a proper conclusion in denying the proposed relocation because the court correctly determined that the relocation would not be in Child’s best interests.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Mother and Father married in 2005, and shortly thereafter had Child. They divorced in 2007 and, by agreement, shared joint legal custody of Child, with Mother having primary physical custody.

In 2010, Mother filed a notice of intent to relocate to South Carolina, citing an inability to obtain employment in her field in Indiana. Mother had been selling medical equipment, but she lost her job and remained subject to a one-year non-compete agreement. Father filed an objection to Mother’s proposed relocation, and the trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing.

Following the hearing, the trial court denied Mother’s proposed relocation, finding that Mother’s move was not proposed in good faith and that, moreover, the proposed move would not be in Child’s best interests. Mother appealed the trial court’s denial of her proposed relocation.

The Court of Appeals analyzed the evidence presented in support of Mother’s relocation. The Court noted that the bar is set fairly low for a proposed relocation to meet the “made in good faith” requirement. The evidence suggested that Mother had a substantial family network in South Carolina — including her own mother recovering from a stroke who needed care — as well as perhaps better employment opportunities there. Thus, the reasons for the relocation advanced by Mother (to seek employment, to be closer to family, and to help care for her ill mother) rendered the trial court’s finding that Mother did not propose the move in good faith to be erroneous.

However, the Court of Appeals also reviewed the impact on the proposed move on Child. Most fundamentally, the parties’ limited economic circumstances, coupled with the 630-mile distance between Father’s residence and Mother’s proposed new home, would have dramatically diminished the Father-Child relationship. The Court concluded that the chance of preserving the relationship between Father and Child after relocation was doubtful. As such, the trial court was within its discretion to deny Mother’s relocation based upon it not serving the best interests of Child.

The trial court’s denial of Mother’s relocation request was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Traci Nelson v. Tony Nelson _________________________________________________________________________________

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