Ruling on Alabama Relocation Statute

We have our first appellate case now interpreting the Alabama Parent Child Relationship Protection Act, and it permits the relocation to occur. In Clements v. Clements, Case No. 2030768 (Ala. Civ. App. February 11, 2005), the Appeals Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court in Autauga County. The trial court’s opinion hadn’t expressly said so, but the Appeals Court deemed the trial court to have found that the relocating mother had succeeded in overcoming the presumption against relocation. This therefore shifted the burden to the non-relocating father, who sought a transfer of custody from the mother to himself.

The court ruled that any change of custody continued to be governed by the McLendon standard and that it would not disturb the finding of the lower court on ore tenus evidence that the father had not met his burden.

The father and the mother both presented evidence regarding their relationship with the child and their fitness as parents. It is clear that both parties love the child and want the trial court to act in the child’s best interest. There was ample evidence presented to the trial court from which it could have found that it was in the child’s best interest to move with the mother to New York. During the time that the child has been in the mother’s custody, the mother has seen to the child’s medical needs and educational needs. There is little evidence that the mother’s devotion to the child’s needs will change after moving to New York. Also, the mother has participated in counseling, along with Dr. Teitel (the mother’s new husband) and the child, to encourage a smooth transition for the child in New York.

The evidence supports the trial court’s determination that the child’s best interest and welfare will not be materially promoted by transferring custody of the child to the father. Ex parte McLendon, supra. There is no doubt that the mother’s move to New York represents a significant transition in the child’s life. However, the benefits the child will receive by moving to New York with the mother, the mother’s role as the child’s primary caregiver, and the mother and Dr. Teitel’s willingness to support a continuing relationship between the father and the child support the trial court’s judgment allowing the mother to move with the child to New York and denying the father’s petition to modify. Therefore, we cannot say that the trial court erred in entering its judgment denying the father’s petition to modify custody.