Tennessee law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts in Tennessee make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child. 

What Is a Parenting Plan?

Under Tennessee law, divorcing parents must have a parenting plan before their divorce will be approved. A parenting plan is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how they will share legal and physical custody of their children. If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they must participate in mediation (a dispute resolution process) before the courts get involved.

What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?

Tennessee courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child.  These factors include:

  • Who has been the child’s primary caregiver,
  • The parent’s ability to provide food, shelter, education, and health care,
  • The emotional bond with the child,
  • The emotional and developmental needs of the child,
  • The physical and mental health of the parent,
  • The character of other individuals living with the parent,
  • The history of contact between the parents and the child,
  • How close the parents live to each other,
  • Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse, and
  • The child’s reasonable preference (if at least 12 years old).

The court should encourage stability and each parent’s maximum participation in parenting decisions. However, courts cannot favor one parent over another based on gender or disability. Sometimes, a guardian ad litem will be assigned to advocate for the child in a custody dispute.

What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once the parenting plan and divorce order are signed, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved parenting plan and the court must approve any modification of the plan. Typically, changed circumstances or evidence of misconduct is needed to change a parenting plan.

Should I Contact a Tennessee Lawyer Regarding my Custody Issues?

Child custody disputes can be emotionally charged and require a detailed understanding of the law. If you have concerns about custody and parenting time, it is important that you speak with an experienced Tennessee child custody lawyer. A lawyer will help advocate for you and your child and work to secure the best possible parenting arrangement for your family.