childcustodydivorcefamilylawTennessee law encourages both parents to spend time with their children, so long as that arrangement is in the best interests of those children. Tennessee judges encourage a healthy relationship between children and both parents. Tennessee does not award “custody” anymore, but instead designates a Primary Residential Parent and an Alternative Residential Parent. The Primary Residential Parent will have at least 50% of the parenting time with the child. In Tennessee, parents typically share decision-making power in 4 areas: educational decisions, non-emergency medical decisions, extracurricular activities and religious upbringing.

The court will consider a number of factors to determine where children should primarily live. The ultimate consideration is what is best for the children involved. For parents who cannot reach an agreement about parenting time, this is often the most contentious and emotional part of their divorce (or separation for unmarried parents).

In designating a Primary Residential Parent, the court considers the following factors:

  • The ability of each parent to instruct, inspire and encourage the child;
  • The strength, nature and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • The willingness of each parent to encourage and facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs;
  • Which parent has been the child’s primary caregiver;
  • The child’s emotional needs and developmental stage;
  • The emotional and physical fitness of each parent;
  • Evidence of abuse by either parent;
  • The reasonable preference of a child that is over 12 years old;
  • Any other relevant factors.

Tennessee has no gender preference when determining which parent will be designated the Primary Residential Parent.

In most cases, courts require parents to attend mediation to try to reach an agreement about their parenting schedule before setting the case for trial. Ms. Castles has a Master’s Degree in Dispute Resolution, and she is knowledgeable about the mediation process and firmly believes that most parents are more satisfied with a plan they put together than with one imposed on them by a judge. An agreement reached through the mediation process can avoid heated and bitter trials, and this process can allow for better co-parenting following a divorce or custody case. Mediation empowers parents to address issues that a judge will not address, such as choices of private school, cost of private school, cost of college education, choice of doctor or which activities the children will be enrolled in and how those expenses will be split. Ms. Castles will fight for your rights and advise you throughout the mediation process, and if you are unable to settle, at trial.

Whether parents reach an agreement at mediation or whether a judge makes the custody decisions, parties will receive a Permanent Parenting Plan, which is a form published by the state of Tennessee. This Parenting Plan addresses your day-to-day schedule, holiday schedule, summer schedule, Christmas schedule, who will cover health insurance, who will pay child support and how it will be paid, and who may claim the children as deductions on tax filings each year.

Parents who have never been married must file their custody case in the Juvenile Court in the county where the children reside. Married couples may file their divorce and custody cases in either Circuit or Chancery court.

Ms. Castles can advise you on what your custody and visitation rights are as well as what consequences your behavior might have on your chances of being designated your child’s Primary Residential Parent. Contact our office as soon as possible. The more time that passes, parents develop schedules that could lay the groundwork for a future custody arrangement.

Temporary Custody

Temporary custody could be a very important tool for a divorcing parent who is being denied time with his or her children while the divorce is pending.  No parent should miss out on time with his or her child. If you are being isolated from your children, or if your time is being severely restricted, contact our firm today to learn how to file with the courts to receive a Temporary Parenting Plan. This plan will ensure that you visit with your children while a divorce or custody case is pending. It will address the day-to-day schedule, holidays, summer visitation (if necessary), and temporary child support. Don’t worry if you do not receive as much time as you want with your children under the temporary plan – judges do not consider this temporary plan when reaching a decision about your ultimate parenting time. This plan simply ensures that both parents have access to their children during the court process.

Child’s Preference

I am often asked whether a judge will listen to a child’s preference regarding where he or she wants to live. The answer is yes and no. Children who are at least 12 years old are entitled to testify about their preference, but it is only one of several factors (listed above) considered by the court. Furthermore, the judge will be more likely to accommodate the child’s wishes if the child’s reasons are well thought out and the child seems to be mature in his or her motives. Although children of the right age are able to testify about their preference, most parents do not wish to put their child on the stand, forcing them to essentially choose between their parents. Judges do not favor this either.

My office will meet with your child prior to allowing him or her to testify to get a better feel for their motivations and desires.

Do not attempt to settle or negotiate the details of your custody arrangement or Permanent Parenting Plan without the advice of an experienced custody attorney. Ms. Castles has helped clients resolve custody disputes throughout Middle Tennessee, including in Spring Hill, Franklin, Gallatin, Springfield and Murfreesboro. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation and discuss your custody concerns.

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