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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Measuring Time - Tennessee's Relocation Statute

When a divorced parent seeks to relocate outside of Tennessee or more than 100 miles from the other parent, a trial court is required to determine whether the parents are "actually spending substantially equal intervals of time with the child." Tenn. Code Ann. ยง 36-6-108(a). If so, there is no presumption in favor of or against the relocation request. Determining how much time a parent spends with a child may seem straightforward -- but with lawyers doing the math, results can vary widely.

The Tennessee Supreme Court provided some guidance yesterday when it issued its opinion in Kawatra v. Kawatra. The trial court had attempted to calculate how many hours each parent had spent with the child over the previous year. In doing so, the court had deducted from the mother's time 1,187 hours during which the child was in school. The Supreme Court disagreed with this approach.

The court laid down the following rules for calculating time spent with a child under the relocation statute:
  • Time should be calculated in units of days, not hours.
  • Days spent with a parent should be calculated based primarily upon the residential schedule, with adjustments made for time not reflected in the schedule or for violations of the terms of the schedule.
  • A day claimed by both parents should be allocated based upon an examination of (1) hours actually spent with the child, (2) activities undertaken by each parent with the child, (3) resources expended by each parent on behalf of the child, and (4) the ever-popular "any other factor that the trial court deems relevant."
  • When circumstances permit, time spent with a child should be calculated based upon the preceding 12 months.
Now if only we knew how to interpret the phrase "substantially equal intervals of time." More on that in a future post.