Assigned on Briefs July 8, 2015
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hamilton County No. 110698 Hon. W. Neil Thomas, III, Judge
Charles G. Wright, Jr., Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jessica Marcel Broadnax.
Jillyn O'Shaughnessy, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee, Quentin Elliott Lawrence.
John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., and Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., joined.
JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE
Jessica Marcel Broadnax ("Mother") and Quentin Elliott Lawrence ("Father") were married in December 2004. One child ("the Child") was born of the marriage in August 2009. Mother and Father (collectively "Parents") were divorced by final decree in April 2012. The divorce decree incorporated a parenting plan in which Mother was designated as the primary residential parent of the Child, while Father was awarded 104 days of co-parenting time.
On October 14, 2014, Mother provided Father with a notice of intent to relocate to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, citing a possible employment opportunity as the reason for the relocation. She later amended her notice to include Trenton, New Jersey, as another possible place of relocation due to a different employment opportunity. Father responded by filing a petition in opposition to the requested relocation, asserting that the relocation was not in the Child's best interest when his extended family lived in Chattanooga. He asserted that Mother's work history was unstable and claimed that he feared for the Child's safety if the relocation were approved. Mother responded by asserting that her proposed relocation was in the best interest of the Child given the employment opportunity. She also noted that she had family outside of the Chattanooga area. Father filed an amended petition in which he asserted that the proposed relocation was not for a reasonable purpose, was proposed in a vindictive manner, and would cause irreparable harm to the Child. He stated that the Child relied upon him and his family in the area for emotional support, nurturing, and development. He claimed that the relocation was also not in the Child's best interest. He filed a proposed parenting plan, requesting his designation as the primary residential parent. Mother denied Father's allegations and filed a proposed parenting plan that provided him with 100 days of co-parenting time.
At the trial, held on December 16, 2014, Mother testified that she has lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, since the time of the divorce in April 2012. She related that she allowed Father to exercise co-parenting time at his convenience because he lived in Georgia at the time of the divorce. She acknowledged that Father's co-parenting time increased when he relocated to Chattanooga. She currently allows him to exercise co-parenting time every other weekend from Friday night to Monday morning. She claimed that Father failed to maintain health insurance for the Child as agreed.
Mother testified that she obtained an undergraduate degree from Austin Peay State University and a master's degree in education from the University of Texas, Arlington. She provided a brief employment history, starting with her employment as a family literacy coordinator for the Dallas Independent School District in Dallas, Texas, with an annual salary of approximately $45, 000. Following the divorce in April 2012 and her move to Chattanooga, Tennessee, she worked as a financial counselor with an annual salary of approximately $50, 000. She later worked for the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy as a special education teacher with an annual salary of approximately $43, 000, then for the City of Chattanooga with their online literacy program with a salary of approximately $20 per hour, and then for the Chattanooga Public Library with an annual salary of approximately $50, 000.
Mother testified that she immediately began searching for new employment when her employment with the library ended in August 2014. She initially looked for employment in Tennessee and Georgia in the area of education. She submitted five or six applications but was not granted an interview for any of the positions. She broadened her employment search to include New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York after her efforts were unsuccessful in Tennessee and Georgia. She sent approximately 40 applications for positions with an annual salary of $55, 000 or more. She later received two invitations for an interview, one in Philadelphia and one in New Jersey with Scholar Academies, which operated schools in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Trenton, New Jersey. She did not receive an offer from the employer in Philadelphia, but she was still in contact with Scholar Academies for a teaching position with an approximate annual salary of $55, 000 or more in Trenton, New Jersey.
Mother testified that she would provide Father with co-parenting time in accordance with the Child's school schedule if her proposed relocation were approved. She noted that they could easily exchange the Child in North Carolina. She had enrolled the Child in Faith Christian School because she was unfamiliar with the school lottery system in New Jersey. She planned to revisit his school placement once she had time to research the school systems.
Mother admitted that she only pursued employment opportunities in Tennessee that provided an annual salary of $50, 000 or more. She abandoned her search because she believed she could not obtain her desired salary in the Chattanooga area. She agreed that the cost of living was higher in New Jersey than in Chattanooga. She stated that a comparable rental residence would cost $1, 000 per month as opposed to her current rent of $725 per month. She acknowledged that the Child currently attended school for free. She estimated that his tuition in New Jersey would cost in excess of $500 per month.
Mother admitted that the majority of her family and Father's family lived in Chattanooga. Relative to other family members, the following colloquy occurred:
Q. And let me ask you about that. You don't include any reasons such as family in your letters for your move to Trenton, New Jersey or Philadelphia.
A. I have family surrounding New Jersey.
Q. You don't include that in your letters?
A. I don't need to.
Q. I'm asking you a question. Did you include that you have family in the surrounding areas of Trenton, New Jersey?
A. It didn't require me to.
Q. So you did not include -
Q. When is the last time you visited any of that family that's in surrounding New Jersey?
A. I went to New Jersey - I have family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; I have family in Massachusetts; I have family in North Carolina. And it's irrelevant how often I visit my family.
Q. Please answer the question. When is the ...