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How Is Custody Determined In Tennessee?

Apr 4, 2023 | Family

Navigating custody can be difficult, no matter what the circumstances are like. Every parent should want what’s best for their kids, but when there are competing ideas of what that might be, when there is conflict, or when there are intense emotions that are understandably being experienced by all parties, it can be hard to achieve a solution that feels right. 

The more you know about the custody laws and process, and about your rights and options, the better equipped you will be to make the best decisions and lay the best foundation for the rest of you and your children’s lives. 

Here is a brief overview of how custody is determined in Tennessee:

Tennessee prioritizes both parents having as equal as possible of a relationship with their kids. 

Custody in Tennessee isn’t going to be biased for or against one parent due to their gender, and “sole” custody is rare. That’s because Tennessee family courts recognize that kids need both of their parents, when possible, as much as possible. The courts will do their best to foster “the relationship between the child and each parent… unless inconsistent with the child’s best interests.”

What does this mean practically for you? It means that you should expect co-parenting; the other parent will most likely be a big part of your child’s life and therefore your own. Unless they are an unsafe person, you need to learn to get along with them and share responsibilities going forward! 

Tennessee separates custody into two types of responsibilities. 

Did you know that in the state of Tennessee, there are two designations of child custody, and they are not “sole” and “joint” custody as you may expect. Those designations are being phased out by most states, and instead are being replaced with physical custody – the day-to-day responsibility of caring for the child and who the child will live with – and legal custody – the responsibility for making significant decisions in the child’s life. 

If it is unreasonable for children to live with both parents equally, then one parent may be named the “primary residential parent”. The other parent will be named the “alternate residential parent” and will be allocated visitation and other rights. 

While who the child will live with may seem like the biggest issue to decide, there are other extremely important decisions parents make about a child’s education, religious upbringing, medical care, extracirriculars, and more that will now have to be divided.

The parent that has primary decision-making responsibilities may not be the same parent who has primary residential responsibilities, or both parents may share these responsibilities as equally as possible. Generally, again, Tennessee wants to see both parents actively involved in all parental roles.

Tennessee may require mediation or alternative dispute resolution to be tried if parents can’t agree. 

It is always going to be better for you and for your children if you can amicably collaborate with the other parent to jointly file a proposed parenting plan to the court. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have your own legal representation on your side, or that you should compromise on things that are important to you, but it does mean that you will have more control over the outcome of the process from the start (rather than a judge who isn’t familiar with your family dynamics or history making decisions for you).

Typically, the custody process starts when one parent petitions the court to grant custody and submits a proposed parenting plan (and typically this happens in the larger context of divorce), or when both parents jointly submit a parenting plan. However, if you and the other parent cannot agree on what the parenting plan should be, rather than settling the issues immediately, the precedent has been for family courts to require mediation in an attempt to get the parents to agree. If not, a judge and court will make the final decisions. 

Tennessee will always prioritize the best interests of the child.

Under Tennessee law, the best interests of the child is the basis for all custody decisions the court may make, even over fairness and equality for both parents (which is a high priority for the court as well). 

While “best” is a word that is open to court interpretation, they will consider a number of factors to arrive at a decision, such as:

  • The relationship of the child to each parent
  • The caretaking history of each parent
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to foster a good relationship with the other parent
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child financially
  • The living situation of each parent
  • The career demands of each parent
  • The emotional ties between the children and their community (school, church, friends, sports teams, etc.) as well as their extended family members 
  • Any other adults who would be living with the child in the same residence and who would have influence in their lives, and the child’s relationship with them
  • The fitness of each parent to parent the child well
  • The reasonable preferences of the child, if determined old and mature enough
  • Evidence of any abuse 
  • Other factors that the court may deem relevant to the situation

Overwhelmed? The Law Office Of Chris Thompson Is Here To Help. 

Even with all of this information, you may still be feeling stressed out or scared, and you may not realize what choices are available to you or what you should do next if you want to get a certain outcome. Having an experienced, trusted Tennessee custody lawyer on your side is the most reliable way to a quick, efficient, good resolution  for your whole family. 

At The Law Office of Chris Thompson, we can protect what is most important to you and advocate for your parental rights to be upheld, no matter how challenging your case may be. Our lead custody lawyer has spent nearly a decade guiding families through custody matters and giving them clarity every step of the way. Call today to schedule a free consultation and learn more about what our law firm can do to serve you! 

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