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  • Family Law
  • / 3.01.2024

How is Child Custody Decided in Tennessee Divorces

Divorce is often a complicated and disheartening process made all the more difficult when children are involved. There are so many misconceptions surrounding child custody, it can be difficult to even know how to start. But how is child custody determined in cases of contested divorces?

Types of Child Custody in Tennessee

Child custody in Tennessee encompasses both legal custody and physical custody arrangements, each with its own considerations and implications.

Physical Custody

When you hear about child custody arrangements, you are likely hearing about schedules and time together. This all falls under physical custody. Physical custody refers to the physical care and supervision of shared children. 

In Tennessee, physical custody arrangements can vary widely, ranging from sole physical custody to shared or joint physical custody. Where do they primarily live? How often do they go to their other parent? What school system will they be in? 

Here are some factors that may come into play when determining physical custody:

  • Child's best interests
  • Parent work schedule
  • Child’s school enrollment
  • Child’s extracurricular activities

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the authority to make important decisions regarding the child's upbringing. This includes decisions related to healthcare, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. While legal custody is typically granted to the primary guardian, parents may also split legal custody, meaning that they would both have to sign off on any given decision. 

Decisions Covered Under Legal Custody

Healthcare: Legal guardians have the right to make decisions regarding the child's medical care, including treatment options, surgeries, mental health services, and routine check-ups. 

It is important to note that even non-custodial parents have the right to make emergency medical choices without the approval of the other party if their child is ever in need of emergency care while with them. 

Education: Custodial parents have the authority to decide on the child's schooling, such as choosing between public and private education, and making decisions regarding special education needs. 

Religious Upbringing: Religion can be a sensitive subject to broach, being as close to people’s hearts as it is. Legal custodians can determine the child's religious affiliation and participation in religious activities.

Extracurricular Activities: Legal custodians can also make decisions regarding the child's involvement in extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons, or clubs. 

Tennessee's Standard for Determining Child Custody

Parents can settle an agreement for custody between themselves, though if they cannot reach an agreement the Tennessee family courts will make the final decision to award custody to either or both parents. But how is such a crucial decision made?

Factors Considered in Child Custody Determination

In all court cases, the child's best interest is the primary concern. The child’s best interest is not always objective, though. Several factors go into determining where a child will be best off, such as:

  • the child's relationship with each parent
  • each parent’s caretaking role and obligations
  • the child's relationships with siblings and extended family members
  • the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
  • the importance of continuity in the child’s life, such as how long they have lived in their current environment
  • either parent’s history of domestic violence or emotional abuse
  • each parent’s moral, physical, mental, and emotional fitness
  • the child’s reasonable preference if 12 years old or older
  • each parent’s work schedule

Sole Vs. Joint Custody Arrangements

Another consideration in child custody cases is how much time each parent spends with their child. This distinction is typically split into two categories: sole and joint custody, with several variations of both. 

Sole Custody

In Tennessee, sole custody typically refers to an arrangement where one parent has primary physical custody of the child and sole decision-making authority regarding their upbringing and welfare. Sole custody can encompass both legal custody and physical custody.

In a sole custody arrangement, the non-custodial parent may still have certain rights, such as visitation, as determined by the court. However, the custodial parent retains primary responsibility for making decisions regarding the child's upbringing, including medical care, education, and recreational activities. 

Joint Custody

In Tennessee, joint custody typically refers to an arrangement where both parents share responsibility for making major life decisions regarding the child. 

In a joint custody arrangement, both parents share parental responsibilities and decision-making authority, fostering a cooperative co-parenting relationship for the benefit of the child. However, it is important to note that joint custody does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of parenting time or equal division of physical custody. 

The specific terms of the joint custody arrangement, including the parenting schedule and decision-making process, are typically outlined in a parenting plan agreed upon by both parents or ordered by the court. Parenting plans are made by both parties, their attorneys, and teh court system to best accommodate the child’s normal schedule and routine and both parent’s external obligations. 

If one parent works exclusively on weekends, for example, a parenting plan might specify certain weekdays that they have their child to avoid additional child care cost and maximize time spent with the child. 

Joint custody arrangements are encouraged in Tennessee family law, as often as possible. They promote the continued involvement of both parents in the child's life and support the child's emotional well-being. However, joint custody may not be suitable in cases where there are concerns about one parent's ability to cooperate or prioritize the child's best interests, such as in cases involving domestic violence, substance abuse, or parental alienation.

Child Custody Process in Tennessee

The child custody process in Tennessee typically involves several steps, from initiating a custody case to reaching a final custody determination. Though each case is different depending on the relationships and history of both parents and the children involved, here is an overview of what the child custody process typically looks like in Tennessee:

  1. File for divorce/ File for custody
  2. Temporary custody order
  3. Mediation and negotiation
  4. Court involvement and hearings
  5. Final decision

Not all cases will look like this, but this is how custody cases typically go. In some instances where an agreement can be reached during mediation, a drawn out hearing can be avoided. 

Consulting with an experienced attorney can help you avoid the time and expense of court. At Durak Law Firm our dedicated family law team has stood by dozens of parents as they negotiate their child’s future living arrangements. While this can be a tough conversation to have, coming to a decision with as little conflict as possible is the best possible course of action for any children involved. 

Are you facing custody issues? You need an experienced attorney on your side. Michal Durakiewicz is a Family Law Attorney that you can trust. Contact Us Now!

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