Tennessee courts make child custody decisions with the best interests of the child at the forefront. Understanding this process is if you are going through a separation or divorce and have children involved.
Reviewing the key factors can help you prepare for an upcoming custody case.
Types of child custody
State laws recognize both physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child lives. Legal custody is decision-making authority about the child’s upbringing, including education and healthcare.
Collaborative parenting plans
The state encourages parents to work together to create a parenting plan and provides a standard form you can use as a starting point. This document outlines how parents will share custody and decisions about how to raise their child. If you and the other parent reach an agreement outside of court, you can submit it to the court for approval.
Factors in child custody determination
If parents cannot agree, the court will assess various factors to create the best possible custody arrangement for the child’s well-being. The judge evaluates the existing parent-child relationship, considering which parent has historically been the primary caregiver. They also account for the emotional bond between the child and each parent.
The court may consider the child’s wishes, especially if the child is mature enough to express a reasonable preference. However, the child’s preference is not the sole determining factor.
The state typically values stability and continuity in the child’s life. The court may favor maintaining the child’s current living situation, school and community ties.
The mental and physical health of each parent is a significant consideration. The court assesses each parent’s ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child.
Parents must be willing and able to have a healthy and cooperative co-parenting relationship. They should also encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent. Research published in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage found that shared custody helped children adjust in the years after divorce, even in situations with high conflict between parents.
Any history of abuse, neglect or domestic violence by either parent can heavily influence the court’s decision. Finally, if one parent wishes to relocate with the child, the court will evaluate how this move may impact the child’s best interests and the existing custody arrangement.
Whenever possible, Tennessee courts encourage parents to resolve custody disputes through mediation or negotiation. A collaborative approach can lead to an amicable and child-centered solution to co-parenting.