• Brad Keating

Tennessee Custody Laws

Child custody laws may vary slightly depending on the state. However, most of these laws share similar items due to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which limits any state with jurisdiction over child custody.


Additionally, there may be some factors that can affect the custody arrangement process for the parents in Tennessee. These factors are going to be covered thoroughly in this article, which includes everything regarding Tennessee child custody laws and other frequently asked questions about the topic.



How Is Child Custody Determined in Tennessee?


How Is Child Custody Determined in Tennessee?


It depends on whether the child's parents are married or not. In the case of married parents, the husband automatically becomes the legal father of the child. However, if the couple is unmarried, the father must prove paternity to assert their parenting responsibilities and rights. Unmarried mothers who give birth receive custody of the child automatically.


To prove paternity to apply for legal custody under Tennessee Code, the father must confirm paternity through a DNA test or executing an agreement by court order.


Regardless of the case, child custody is determined with the child's best interest in mind. If the parents can't come up with a custody agreement for child support, they must mediate the custody case with Tennessee courts.


Fathers may petition for full or joint custody, which may or may not go through depending on the custody case. As mentioned before, if the unmarried parents don't have an agreement beforehand, they must go through a hearing with a judge, which is going to mediate the case with the child's wishes and best interest in mind.


Once the judge reaches a decision, the unmarried parents must follow the court order provided by the judge.


What Do Tennessee Courts Consider at the Time of a Custody Dispute?


While it depends on the judge, there are some common factors most judges use to determine which parent can work toward the best interest of the child; these factors may be found on the list below:

  • The emotional ties between each parent and their minor children

  • The parents' disposition to provide the minor child with all the necessary care (food, education, clothing, religious training, etc.)

  • Who was the child's primary caregiver for the most time before the custody trial

  • Each parents' family unit's stability

  • The stability of the child's current home environment

  • The parents' mental or physical health

  • If the child is over 12 years old, they may have a say in the Tennessee child custody case

  • Any cases of domestic violence or physical or sexual abuse to the child or any other person

  • The behavior of any third-party that currently lives in the same home as the children

  • The parents' potential for keeping up with parenting responsibilities in the future

It's important to note that child custody cases in Tennessee don't count one or both parents' financial status to determine the primary residential parent status. However, the judge may evaluate the parents' ability to provide the child with everything they need to grow healthy, which in some cases, is affected by financial income.


Is it Possible to Change the Tennessee Child Custody Result in the Future?


It's highly common for some parents to want to change the child custody factors once the decision has been made by Tennessee law. According to Tennessee child custody laws, a parent can modify custody orders in case there's a material change in the circumstances. If the new circumstances work for the best interest of the child, the parent may sign a new petition to the court.


Some of these material changes that can affect the primary residential parent designation include the following:

  • Improvement in the parent's living situation

  • Relocation to be closer to the child

  • The other parent has been proven to interfere with the parent and child's relationship

  • There's a proven child abuse case from an abusive parent or someone else at home that affects the child's psychological development

  • One of the parents has a substance abuse issue (or any other emotional or physical impairment) that can affect the child.

  • There's any physical or emotional abuse case happening at the property where the child lives.

What Is Sole Custody According to Tennessee Child Custody Laws?


It's important to note that the Tennessee child support guidelines work with both legal and physical custody. Typically, the divorcing parents agree on joint custody where they share both legal and physical support.


In the case of sole custody, only one parent can receive child support rights, including both physical and legal aspects of the custody. Overall, the custodial parent is responsible for providing the child with everything they need to survive and grow healthy. The child must live in the custodial parent's home at all times, and the other parent doesn't have any child support rights.


This type of custody isn't recommended since it places all the child custody decisions into one of the parents, which can sometimes be overwhelming. In most cases, it's important to talk to an experienced family law attorney so that they can provide everyone with a solution that benefits the child's life.


Sole and full custody tend to be confused from the other. In essence, full custody involves the same case as the other one. The main difference between the two is that in full custody, the other parent does get supervised visitation and other child support rights.


What Is Joint Custody According to Tennessee Child Custody Laws?


As mentioned before, this type of custody in Tennessee involves shared physical custody of the child for a continuing parent-child relationship. Here, both parents must agree on a permanent parenting plan that goes in favor of the child's preference; this plan involves agreeing on all major decisions for the child, such as education, medical care, and more. Additionally, the permanent parenting plan must establish how much time each parent spends with the child.


Judges are more likely to go in favor of this custody type since it's the most likely one to benefit the younger children. In these cases, the child resides in both Tennessee parents' lives equally, which in most cases, is the healthiest thing for them.


Unfortunately, there are some limitations that may affect how this custody type affects child support plans for one or the other parent, such as the following:

  • The plan can interfere with the child's schedule

  • The parents live too far away from each other

  • The child's age and maturity level

  • One of the parents cannot comply with the required parenting time


What Is the Primary Residential Parent?


The primary residential parent is the parent with whom the children spend more than 50% of the total parenting time. Regardless of the established parenting time, the court must declare one primary residential parent in court.


On the other hand, the alternative residential parent is the person with less parenting time with their children. In most cases, this is the person with temporary custody and is responsible for child support payments. However, depending on each parent's current income and parenting time, the primary residential parent may be the one responsible to pay child support.


What Are the Non-Custodial Parent's Rights for the Tennessee Child Support Plan?


According to the Tennessee Code, Annotated Section 36-6-101(A)(3), these are some of the rights that the non-custodial parent can enjoy as long as they comply with the child's reasonable preference:

  • Unimpeded phone conversations with the child at least twice a week

  • Mail for the child that the other parent cannot censor or destroy in any way

  • Information regarding the child's health within 24 hours of any sudden event

  • Information regarding the child's educational records

  • Participation in the child's education whenever possible

  • Information within 48 hours of notice regarding the other parent leaving the state with the child


What Is a Parenting Plan?


According to Tennessee family law, a parenting plan is a plan where the child's mother and father outline every responsibility they have to comply with the child's best interests, including major decisions, parenting time, and transportation. A parenting plan also includes information regarding the child's permanent home, temporary visits from the alternative parent, and more.


Family law in Tennessee states that the parents much attend a four-hour class about parenting to qualify for a parenting plan with the court. If the parents don't comply with these guidelines, they may not be able to apply for a divorce.


It's important to note that the parents can create the parenting plan themselves as long as it works in favor of the child's emotional fitness, but if they're not able to do it, they may choose to go to court for mediation.



How Does the Other Parent Pay Child Support?


In most cases in Tennessee, the parent's employer takes the child support payment amount from their check and sends it to Tennessee's State Disbursement Unit; this is also known as "income withholding." If the person responsible for child support payments is self-employed, the state may provide alternative payment options.


Bottom Line


Determining child custody may be challenging for most parents, especially since not every case works in the same way in Tennessee. However, thanks to the guidelines in the Tennessee Code, both parents may have an easier time arranging a plan that works in the child's best interest.


Regardless of the case, it's always an excellent choice to contact a family lawyer to assess the situation. Having the right attorney-client relationship is the key to achieving a satisfactory result for all the parties involved.


For more legal information regarding Tennessee laws such as abortion and common law marriage, or help with getting a personal injury settlement, contact The Keating Firm.