Tennessee Child Custody Laws

Mom with elementary-aged son laughing on a bed

Going through a divorce is difficult enough but things can become even more complicated when children are involved. It is critically important for parents to understand Tennessee's child custody laws when they find themselves unexpectedly in the midst of a divorce.

How is Child Custody Determined?

Various factors are considered when determining child custody, although the court's primary concern is always the best interest of the child(ren). Those include:

  • What is the best situation for the child(ren);
  • Ensuring that both parents have opportunities to be a part of their child(ren)’s life/lives; and,
  • The willingness of each parent to take on responsibilities.

Determining Child Support

Child support is not as a clear-cut decision as some may think. Several considerations are evaluated before decisions are made.

Who Has Custody?

One critical point of child support is to ensure the child(ren) has approximately the same level of support and accommodations they were accustomed to prior to the separation as much as possible. The amount of child support takes into account a variety of factors, such as the number of days the child(ren) spends with each parent, each parent’s income, and other factors such as the cost of health insurance and extra-curricular activities.

Who is More Likely to be Awarded Custody?

Most individuals assume that a mother will be the primary caregiver for any child(ren), but that’s not always necessarily the case. When deciding on the child(ren)’s care, a judge will decide which parent will give the child(ren) the most stability and be able to provide the best stability for the child(ren). For example, if the mother’s profession requires her to travel frequently, primary custody may be awarded to the father to provide the children with the most stability.

Parenting Plan

In Tennessee, prior to finalizing a custody arrangement, parents must complete a parenting plan that outlines how the child(ren) will be supported. This is a government-issued document from the Supreme Court of Tennessee that breaks down the responsibilities of each parent, parenting time, who has the final decision-making authority, and who is responsible for transporting the child(ren), among other responsibilities.

A residential schedule is also required in a parenting plan. This information indicates which parent is the primary residential parent and where the children will be throughout the year including holidays, birthdays, school vacations, and other special occasions.

Separated parents are also required to attend a four-hour parenting class prior to submitting their parenting plan for final approval by a judge.

If the parents can not agree upon a parenting plan by themselves, they should speak with their divorce attorney to set up a mediation.

Can Custody Agreements Be Changed?

Yes! This is a common misconception for some parents. Just because an initial parenting plan and custody agreement is in place does not mean it has to stay that way through the child(ren)’s adolescents. However, an agreement may not be changed just because one parent wants it to change — there usually must be a change of circumstances that qualify the reason for the alteration.

Reasons for a change to the custody agreement could be:

  • A parent moving or their living arrangements changed;
  • A job change or loss that impacts their time to parent;
  • A parent failing to meet their obligations in the current agreement;
  • Concerning behavior by the child when they are with one parent;
  • Alleged neglect or child abuse; and,
  • Changes to the child’s life due to age or other circumstances.

What if My Ex is Not Upholding Their End of the Child Custody Agreement?

If your ex is not upholding their end of the child custody agreement, you have every right to seek justice for your child or children. The attorneys at Puryear, Newman & Morton, PLLC want to help you if you pursue this route. Our compassionate and knowledgeable family law attorneys have helped countless families and we want to be there for you.

Contact us online or by phone — (615) 933-2366 — to set up a consultation.

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