Session May 16, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 15D-1423
Philip E. Smith, Judge.
post-divorce case concerns parental relocation. Mother, the
primary residential parent, sought to relocate to Texas,
citing an employment offer. Father objected to the
relocation, arguing that the move had no reasonable purpose
and that Mother's real purpose for relocating is to be
closer to her boyfriend. The trial court denied mother's
request to relocate based on mother's perjury in the
trial court's presence and on the finding that the real
purpose of mother's proposed move is to be closer to her
boyfriend. We reverse the trial court's decision because
we determine that father failed to carry his burden of proof.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
F. Bloom, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Alecia
F. Mink, Charles M. Duke, and William M. Leech, Nashville,
Tennessee, for the appellee, Ronald Stringer.
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, and Brandon O. Gibson, JJ.,
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
Ronald Stringer ("Father") and Defendant/Appellant
Alecia Stringer ("Mother") married in 1998. During
the marriage, the parties moved often because of Father's
job as a preacher, living in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and
Texas. A daughter ("the child") was born in
November 2006. In the summer of 2013, the parties separated,
and Mother moved to Middle Tennessee. Father at some point
after moved to Lawrence County, Tennessee, to be closer to
the child. On April 29, 2014, the parties were divorced in
Texas, and on July 28, 2015, the decree of divorce nunc pro
tunc was domesticated in Tennessee. Mother was designated the
primary residential parent, and Father was named the
alternate residential parent.
returned to Texas in March 2015 and June 2015 to visit with
an old high school friend ("boyfriend"). In a
letter dated August 3, 2015, Mother notified Father by
certified mail that she intended to relocate to Houston,
Texas, in order to accept an employment opportunity; Father
received this letter on August 6, 2015. On September 4, 2015,
Father filed a petition in opposition to the relocation in
the Davidson County Circuit Court, alleging that the proposed
relocation was vindictive and not in the child's best
interest. Father further alleged that Mother was dating
someone who was living in Texas and that Mother and the child
would live with him if Mother were allowed to relocate.
Mother's answer on September 10, 2015, alleged that the
job opportunity in Texas offered her the opportunity to work
full-time as a piano, voice, and kindermusik teacher,
allowing her to utilize her degree in music education as well
as provide increased income. Mother further asserted that she
had been unable to secure similar employment in Tennessee.
Although Mother denied most of the allegations in
Father's petition, Mother "admit[ted] that she has a
boyfriend who lives in Texas."
was held on May 18, 2016. Mother was called first as an
adverse witness as part of Father's case-in-chief.
Shortly into Mother's testimony, the trial judge began
questioning Mother about the nature of her relationship with
the boyfriend. Mother asserted that the individual was just a
friend and that they were "not dating." When the
trial judge questioned whether Mother had a romantic
relationship and had sex with the boyfriend in Texas, Mother
responded in the negative. After the trial judge allowed Mother to
confer with counsel, Mother admitted that she "did have
sex [with the boyfriend in June 2015] for one time and had a
relationship then." Mother explained that she was confused
about which time period the trial judge was referring to,
because, according to Mother, "I don't have sex with
him now[.]" The trial judge found Mother in criminal
contempt and stated that "it's going to be tough for
me to believe anything else [you] say after that
admission." Although Mother initially stated that she
went to Texas to look for a job, Mother eventually admitted
that she was more serious about the job search in June 2015.
Mother generally testified that she moved to Middle Tennessee
from her home state of Texas because she needed her
parents' and sister's financial support after her
separation from Father. Mother testified that she was
employed as a substitute teacher on occasion but never landed
a permanent position in Tennessee. Mother eventually
developed an online business managing web sites and blogs;
however, none of her various efforts ever netted more than
$10, 000.00 per year. Although Mother has an Arkansas
teaching license, Mother does not have one in Tennessee.
Mother testified that she could apply for a Tennessee
teaching license "[i]f there was a need to."
According to Mother, rent in Tennessee and Texas would be the
same, approximately $1, 300 per month. Mother asserts that
the job offer that she received in Texas would eventually
allow her to teach in her chosen profession.
generally testified about his parenting schedule and his
efforts in finding a job as a preacher in Tennessee to be
near the child. Father testified that his current girlfriend
lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Father admitted that Mother
never made any substantial income from her music career or
online marketing because her career was secondary to his
during the marriage.
prospective employer in Texas, Skiles Kelly, testified that
he owns three music studios. Mr. Kelly testified that,
although the teaching job that he initially offered to Mother
was no longer available to her because all of the children
have since been placed with another teacher, he offered
Mother a job as a part-time administrative assistant at
$15.00 per hour for 25 hours per week. However, Mr. Kelly
testified that if the school were to take on new piano or
voice students, Mother would receive those students.
According to Mr. Kelly, teachers in his studios make between
$1, 000.00 to $3, 000.00 per month.
27, 2016, the trial court entered an order finding Mother in
willful direct criminal contempt and fined her $50.00. On
July 29, 2016, the trial court entered a final order, giving
no weight to Mother's testimony because "if you
violate that oath, then there are consequences that the
[c]ourt believed nothing [Mother] said." According to
the trial court, no proof was presented showing that the
proposed relocation would be harmful to the child or that the
move is for vindictive purposes. With respect to the ground
that the move lacks a reasonable purpose,  the trial court
found that Mother was seeking to move to Texas to be close to
the boyfriend, not because of her career in music, that she
"is using employment in Houston, Texas, as a basis for
the move when she has made no effort to seek employment in
the Middle Tennessee area." The trial court further
found that most of Mother's support system is located in
Tennessee or Northern Alabama. As such, the trial court
concluded that Father carried his burden of establishing that
the relocation did not have a reasonable purpose. In
addition, the trial court noted that Mother waived further
hearing as to the best interest of the child. Mother appeals.
raises the following issue for our review: Whether the trial
court abused its discretion in rejecting Mother's
testimony in its entirety and in failing to ...