Child Custody
August 26, 2023
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Child Custody

What overriding standard do Tennessee courts use in determining child custody?

Tennessee courts attempt to make child custody determinations based on the “best interests” of the child or children.  There are many statutory factors listed in Tennessee to determine what is in the best interest of the child.   Some of the more prominent factors include the relationship each parent has with the child, the ability of each parent to provide the child with the basic necessities of life, the emotional ties between each parent and the child, the fitness of each parent, each parent’s employment schedule, and the importance of continuity in the child’s life.

The bottom line is that there are numerous factors listed in the Tennessee statute on child custody.   It is important to have an attorney who is well-versed in Tennessee law, these relevant factors, and can advocate for you to obtain the best possible outcome for you and your child in this difficult time.  

What is the primary residential parent?

The primary residential parent is the parent who in child custody rulings obtains the most time with the children. For example, let’s say that the parents are divorced and the mother has parenting time with the children Monday through Friday and every other weekend, while the children go to the father’s home every other weekend. In this situation, the mother is the primary residential parent. Courts in Tennessee decide who is the primary residential parent – if there is one – based on the “best interests” of the children.

Does the child have a say-so in what parent the child stays with most of the time?

Sometimes. Tennessee law on child custody provides that a relevant factor in child-custody determinations as to what is in the best interest of the child is the reasonable preference of a child 12 years of age or older. However, this is not the only factor that determines what the Court will order in a parenting plan. A child’s preference is one of the most important factors but it must be based on a reasonable understanding and logic and the maturity of the child. The statute further provides: “The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preference of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children.”

Does it matter for child custody purposes who lives with each parent?

It certainly can matter. Tennessee law on child custody provides that a relevant factor in child custody determinations is [t]he character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person’s interactions with the child.” For example, if one parent is dating an individual with a substance abuse problem, that could be deemed harmful to the child and factor against that parent in a custody determination.

Can child custody be changed?

Yes, a court can modify the child custody arrangements of a permanent parenting plan if there is what Tennessee calls a “material change in circumstances.” For example, if one party is now co-habituating with a known felon who uses drugs in the home, then that would constitute a material change in circumstances. Another example might be if one party goes to jail or loses their job.

Essentially, a material change in circumstances means that the landscape is quite different now with regard to the parents and their relationship with the child or their status and how things were at the time of the original custody arrangement approved by the court.

You may have even more questions about child custody. For example, what happens to the child if you are an unmarried couple? This is a discussion that you need to have with an experienced family law attorney, like the team at Hagar & Phillips, PLLC.

Child Custody in Lebanon, TN, and Wilson County, TN

For the best child custody lawyers in Lebanon, Cookeville, Mt. Juliet, or the Wilson County, TN, area, contact Hagar and Phillips. We will help you plan your options. Family mediation is also available by using our Contact Form or calling 615-784-4588. Please contact us directly for directions to our Lebanon, TN office.

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