Session April 16, 2015
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Wilson County No. 6357DVC Clara W. Byrd, Judge
Amanda G. Crowell, Lebanon, Tennessee, for the appellant, Katja Ute (Franz) Buchanan.
Rayburn McGowan, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Steven James Larry Buchanan.
Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P. J., M. S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J. joined.
RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE
I. Factual and Procedural History
Katja Ute (Franz) Buchanan ("Mother"), a native of Germany, and Steven James Larry Buchanan ("Father"), a member of the Tennessee National Guard, are the parents of one daughter, born in February 2003. Mother and Father were declared divorced in the Circuit Court for Wilson County on December 11, 2008. The Final Decree of Divorce incorporated an Agreed Parenting Plan, in which Mother was named the primary residential parent with 243 days of residential parenting time per year. Father received 122 days per year; his parenting time was exercised every other weekend, with an midweek overnight visitation every week, and four hours after school on Thursdays in weeks when he did not have an upcoming weekend visitation. Father's monthly child support obligation was set at $840.
In 2009, Mother sent a certified letter to Father informing him of her intention to relocate with the child to her former hometown in Germany. Father, through counsel, filed a petition opposing the relocation, whereupon Mother withdrew her request and Father's petition was dismissed.
On December 27, 2013, Mother's counsel sent a certified letter to Father, which he received on December 28, informing him of Mother's intention to relocate with the child to Germany to assist her parents, whose health conditions had been deteriorating and who needed assistance with their everyday lives; the letter also stated that Mother had secured employment which would allow her and the child to have a better quality of life. The letter stated that Father "may file a petition in opposition to Ms. Buchanan's proposed relocation within thirty (30) days of receipt of this notice." Father responded by writing a letter to Mother's attorney opposing the relocation; the letter, dated January 24, 2014, was received at the attorney's office on January 27.
On February 3, 2014, Mother filed a Petition to Alter Visitation, stating:
Father failed to file a Petition in opposition to Mother's proposed relocation within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice which is required by statute in the event Father wishes to block the custodial parent from moving with the minor child and attempt to change custody. Father did otherwise indicate that he was not in agreement with Mother's move, but his actions can in no way be construed as "filing a petition" as required by statute. As a result, Mother now has the right to relocate with the minor child in accordance with her proposed move pursuant to the mandatory language in Tenn. Code. Ann. Section 36-6-108(g).
Mother requested that the court hold a hearing to determine Father's parenting time based upon her relocation; that her proposed permanent parenting plan be approved and entered as an order of the court; and that she be awarded her attorney's fees.
On February 12, Father, acting pro se, filed a "Petition in Opposition of Altering Visitation and Request for Full Custodial Rights." On February 19, Mother filed a motion to dismiss the petition on the grounds that it was not timely filed. The court held a hearing on the motion to dismiss as well as the Petition to Alter Visitation and entered an ...