Tennessee Child Custody Explained

Child custody in Tennessee is slightly different from other states in America. This is because, as a rule, each state has jurisdiction over the children that live within its borders. As a parent going through a child custody matter or divorce, it is vital for you to make sure you understand child custody, the different types, and how it is determined in the state in which your child lives.

Permanent Parenting Plan

When the permanent parenting plan requirement went into effect in 2001, this changed the way custody agreements were made in Tennessee. For instance, the terms “sole custody” and “joint custody” are no longer used in a legal sense. Instead, parents are required to create a permanent parenting plan that provides for the best interests of the children, including a routine schedule, how decisions regarding the children will be made, and support obligations. The plan will indicate which parent is the primary residential parent and which is the alternative residential parent. If the parties cannot agree to the terms of a Permanent, each parent files his or her own Plan with the Court and will usually go on to mediation to resolve the differences. Parents are also required to attend a parenting class either by the time the divorce is final or up to 60 days after the divorce is final.

Primary Residential Parent

The child lives with the primary residential parent the majority of the time. It is essential to consider which parent will be the primary residential parent because this individual is likely to spend more time with the child. Therefore, this parent will make more decisions that affect the child’s day-to-day life.

Alternative Residential Parent

The other parent is referred to as the alternative residential parent. Even if time is split 50/50 between two parents, a primary and alternative residential parent must be determined. In many instances, the child lives with the alternative residential parent every other weekend and a day or two during the week. The plan, instead could provide for extended weekends such as Thursday through Sunday night or Monday morning. Holidays and other planned dates will be specified in the permanent parenting plan. The alternative residential parent often pays child support to the primary residential parent; however, this is not always the case. Child support is based on both parties’ incomes, the amount of time each party spends with the child, and the cost of healthcare and childcare.

Typically each parent is responsible for day-to-day decision-making when the child is with them. Parents usually share other major decision-making such as education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. The Court may, however, determine that one parent should have decision-making over one of these areas of the child’s life.

How Child Custody is Determined in Tennessee

If the parents cannot agree upon a primary custodial parent and a permanent parenting plan on their own, they can seek mediation or ask for a judge to make the decision. If a judge is required to make the decision, the judge will consider a variety of factors. All of these focus on the child’s best interests.

A judge may consider:

  • Who has spent more time raising the child
  • The relationship between the parent and child
  • The consideration of others who know the parents and the child
  • Whether there has been any reported abuse
  • Which parent is more stable in terms of housing, job, and the ability to provide and maintain the lifestyle the child is used to
  • The preference of the child if he or she is over 12 years old

If you are in the midst of separating from your spouse, keep in mind the best interests of your child while creating your permanent parenting plan. Regardless of which parent is the primary or the alternative, providing a stable home and solid relationship is key.

If you are working through a parenting plan with your spouse, having an experienced family law attorney can be a great resource. Contact McCracken Kuhn Marks PLLC to set up an appointment or to learn more.

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McCracken Kuhn Marks PLLC

McCracken Kuhn Marks PLLC was founded by Attorneys Joanna McCracken, Irwin Kuhn, and Demi Marks with the goal of approaching family law in a new and innovative manner.

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