Child Custody in Tennessee – The Legal Process

Tennessee Child Custody – Family Law Attorney

Child custody in Tennessee Shared ParentingTo most parents their children are the most important part of their lives.  Whether your child is born outside of marriage or within a marital union that ends in divorce, the child custody becomes an issue for you.  Parenting a child with both the mother and father living together under the same roof can be complicated enough, but when the parents live separately it involves several additional issues and decisions.  A determination must be made as to which parent your child will be with and when, which parent has the authority to make educational, medical and other major decisions for the child, and how the child will be financially supported are all part of the legal process of the arrangement for the custody of a child in Tennessee. Sometimes a child custody determination is made by agreement between the parties other times it is adjudicated by the court.  In either instance you should have a family law attorney involved and any child custody arrangements should be formalized by a court order.

Shared Parenting – Joint Custody – is  the Standard in Tennessee

For well over ten (10) years the Tennessee law regarding child custody and the courts in Tennessee have fostered and enforced a standard of shared parenting or joint custody.  Many studies and experience has shown that children are much better served if both parents are significantly involved in the parenting of the child.  Although there may be issues with one parent or the other, the standard is to allow both parents the opportunity to be involved in parenting decisions and to exercise parenting time with the child.  Note that the term “visitation” has been replaced by “parenting time” and  “custody” is now “parenting decisions”.  Except for extreme cases, which will be discussed briefly below, sole child custody is not awarded to one parent with visitation to the other parent.  The parties and/or the court now develop a Permanent Parenting Plan which delineates or specifies the parenting responsibilities of both parents, including joint decision making in health care, education, religious or spiritual matters and other major decisions that must be made for the child.  The parent with whom the child will reside the majority of the time during the year is named as the “Primary Residential Parent” but only to satisfy certain requirements of law such as school zoning, income tax exemptions, etc. The other parent is the “alternate residential parent”.  For more information about shared parenting and your legal rights as a parent speak to a Tennessee child custody lawyer/ family law attorney.

Tennessee Shared Parenting Explained

Shared parenting does not necessarily mean equal parenting, at least not in terms of residential time with the child.  There are times in which a split (50/50) parenting schedule results from child custody determinations.  In many cases, however, a 50/50 split parenting schedule is not practical for the child or the parents.  In most Tennessee child custody cases the primary parent will spend approximately 285 days per year with the child while the other parent spends the remainder.  The alternate residential parent spends approximately 80 days with the children on an every other weekend basis with time for holidays and summer vacations.  On the surface this arrangement may appear to be a custody/visitation arrangement with better sounding terminology.  However, the emphasis is on joint or shared decision making and equal opportunity to parent the child. In the event that the parents can not agree on a certain parenting matter, then usually the parenting plan will require the parents to attend formal dispute resolution or mediation in order to attempt to resolve the controversy before returning to court.  This is an effort to keep parenting and related issues within the confines of collaboration between the parents, as opposed to a dictate from a court.  However, there are certain issues that may arise in which mediation is not the appropriate remedy– such as child abuse, or drug/alcohol related problems.  If you believe that a change in child custody or parenting arrangements needs to be addressed, seek legal advice and counsel from an attorney experienced in child custody disputes and resolution.

Limitations on Shared Parenting in Tennessee Child Custody Matters

Obviously not all parenting situations are the same, and there are times when either the father or the mother exhibits a lack of parenting skills or has problems which present a negative impact upon the child.  In such cases the courts are tasked with determining if such problems require a limitation on shared parenting.  The legal term is “limiting factors” and range from problems involving child abuse, drug or alcohol dependency, to other issues which may impair the parent’s ability to effectively perform parenting responsibilities. When such limiting factors are present the court will typically employ the least restrictive remedy that protects the child’s safety and welfare, but allows the parent to be involved and spend time with the child.  The remedies available include a shift in parenting decisions in one or all areas exclusive to the unimpaired parent, limiting parenting time, or even supervised parenting time, or court ordered counseling intervention.  In the most severe cases, the court will grant sole custody of the child to the other parent and not allow any parenting or visitation time for the impaired parent, until such time as that parent can demonstrate an ability to appropriately exercise such parenting time or responsibilities.  Limiting factors in child custody determinations involve quite complex legal issues which need the attention of a seasoned professional – a child custody lawyer.

The Process of Making  Child Custody Determinations

The process of child custody determinations is sometimes different in divorce cases as opposed to these involving unmarried parents. The focus in Tennessee is upon agreed child custody or parenting plan arrangements.   In a divorce action, with limited exceptions,  the parents are required to attend mediation in order to attempt to reach agreement on a temporary parenting plan, if this effort fails the court will then enter an order adopting a temporary parenting plan as proposed by one of the parties – both parents may submit a proposed plan for consideration.  Prior to a final divorce trial the parties to divorce action are required to attend mediation in order to attempt to resolve all of the disputes including those surrounding child custody arrangements and child support.  Again the unresolved conflicts will be heard and decided by the court.   In cases involving unmarried parents, the requirement to initially attend mediation  is not always enforced, with the juvenile court often times entering basic child custody orders. If a parent insists upon a mediated parenting plan then the courts will usually make sure that the process is followed.  Keep in mind that Tennessee juvenile courts are overwhelmed with case loads involving dependency and neglect – child abuse- cases, so drawn out litigation is not usually favored.

Child Custody and the Family Law Attorney

Child Custody family law attorney in Chattanooga

Chattanooga Attorney Jim Purple

Issues involving the parenting, decision making and residential schedule for minor children involve many serious matters of law and sometimes dire consequences.  A child custody determination, once made by the court, is very difficult to change or modify.  The emphasis on shared parenting does not mean that the custody arrangements are readily changeable.  The courts in recent years have relaxed some of the more stringent barricades to child custody modifications, but a permanent parenting plan or other child custody order is intended to be permanent.  So it is vitally important the issues, problems and conflicts be resolved in the initial determination of child custody.  This is why you should have a family law attorney who is experienced in child custody and parenting issues.  Your divorce lawyer will be there to guide the decision making process during any alternate dispute resolution or mediation sessions, advise you as to your legal rights, and the court’s typical reasoning in a given situation, and most importantly to advocate for you and your children.  Contact Purple Law Firm to discuss child custody and the legal process in Tennessee.


Child Custody in Tennessee – The Legal Process — 8 Comments

  1. Pingback: Do It Yourself Legal Forms » The Law and You in Chattanooga Tennessee

    • Child support is a completely separate issue from joint custody. But, the performance or non support of the child is a factor that the court will consider in making a child custody determination. Best to speak to a family law practicioner about the specific issues.

  2. What do you need to do if two divorced parents have shared custody and one parent dies? Does he automatically gain full custody and if so how do you go about fighting this? The surviving parent is in and out of jail and the aunt and uncle of the deceased would make a better guardian.

  3. if both parties agree to joint custody and the child resides with both parents equql time does there have to be a residential or custodial parent named?

    • Yes, certain federal and state laws require the designation of a “custodial” or primary residential parent. For instance, determination of school District, tax credits, etc.

  4. How do these considerations change if one parent lives in a different state but is financially stronger in order to care for the child educationally and health wise?

    • Yes, the Court would take that into consideration. However, obtaining approval for a minor child to reside outside of Tennessee requires the parent to show proof that it is in the manifest best interest of the child. This is the type of case that needs the expertise of a family law professional.