What the “Maximum Participation” Statute Could Mean for Time With Your Child

In 2011, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that changes how judges determine parenting schedules in our state. The new law requires judges to create parenting plans that allow both parents to exercise “maximum participation” in their child’s life. The schedule must, however, still be in the child’s best interests, and the courts continue to consider the following factors:

  • The love, affection and emotional ties between each parent and the child
  • The ability and determination of each parent to provide for the child’s needs
  • Which parent has been the child’s primary caregiver
  • The importance of continuity in the child’s life
  • Stability of each parent’s family unit
  • Health of each parent
  • Home, school and community involvement of the child
  • The reasonable preference of a child over 12 years old
  • Evidence of child abuse, abuse to the other parent or to any other person
  • Character and behavior of anyone residing with a parent or who frequents a parent’s home
  • The parents’ past and potential future performance of parenting responsibilities

This law only applies to custody cases heard after 2011. However, parents who already have a parenting plan could be affected by this law if they are looking to have their current schedule modified. The parent seeking a modification must show that there has been a significant and material change in circumstances since the last parenting plan was put into place. Once a court finds that a modification is appropriate, the new plan would be put together with this new requirement of “maximum participation” in mind.

The legal community disagrees over what impact, if any, this law will have on future parenting plans. The “maximum participation” language certainly indicates a legislative intent to have both parents be as involved as possible with their children, so long as the involvement is in the child’s best interest. With changing family structures, fathers are spending more and more time with their children, and the law must evolve to address this reality.

Some in the legal community believe this statute won’t immediately usher in a new era of heavily involved fathers.  In fact, many argue this legislation may have almost no impact on how visitation schedules are set up. Others, however, believe that judges are more inclined to maximize the amount of time fathers receive, even increasing the number of plans that split time equally between the parents. Supporters of the bill believe the legislation could move custody decisions in a direction that will encourage equal or almost-equal parenting time for moms and dads, something that is decades overdue.

Of course the term “maximum participation” will be open to interpretation, and the appellate courts will likely have to weigh in on what this new standard will mean for our courts going forward.

Ultimately, even though judges still have a lot of discretion, it is almost certain that this new law will aid fathers in getting more time with their children. Even if judges continue to shun 50/50 schedules, this law makes great progress for fathers in Tennessee.

If you want more time with your children or are concerned about a custody case that you are about to face, Lauren Wilson Castles is an experienced family law attorney who has worked with many custody cases throughout Middle Tennessee. Don’t go another day without seeing your children – contact our office today to schedule your free consultation!

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