Child custody is one of the most consequential negotiations of a divorce, as it directly impacts your relationship with your child. However, rest assured that Tennessee law does try its best to maintain the parent-child relationship through its parenting plan laws. Nashville child custody attorney Amanda J. Gentry is a passionate advocate who will do her best to fight for your parental interests in negotiation. She will maintain a down-to-earth office environment but a fierce and passionate personality in negotiation. Whether you have questions about how parenting time is split between parents or how to modify an existing order, our family law firm in Nashville, Tennessee can help you.
Under Tennessee’s child custody laws, one parent will be designated the primary residential parent who lives with the child more than half the time. In general, the primary residential parent is the one who is more involved in the child’s day-to-day decisions. Note that even when parents share parenting responsibilities, one parent will be designated as the primary residential parent who has the final say on decisions when the parents cannot agree. However, a parent without decision-making responsibilities over the child is still entitled to make emergency medical decisions while the child is in their care.
Note that a non-residential parent who does not have primary parental responsibility over the child is still entitled to regular communication and a relationship with that child. This usually means at least 1 weeknight visit and visits every other weekend or telephone calls with the child twice a week. The nonresidential parent may also receive the child’s school and medical records, including copies of the child's report card, attendance records, and test scores.
How Does a Judge Determine The Child’s Best Interests?
The Tennessee family courts will make custody decisions based on what they deem as the child's best interests. The child's best interests can be determined by weighing a variety of factors, such as parenting and home environment.
To choose the primary residential parent, the judge will examine the child's best interests, including:
- The child's relationship with each parent
- Each parent's role in parental caretaking 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 including the length of time the child has lived in the 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
- Any other relevant factor
Does a Child Have the Option to Choose?
If the child is over the age of 12, the judge may consider their preference. However, this will only be one of many other factors the judge will weigh in making the decision.
Modifying a Child Custody Order in Nashville
If a parent has experienced a material change in circumstances, they may file a petition to modify the child custody order if doing so would be in the best interests of the child. Some instances that justify a modification request could be if the child is being abused, they are performing poorly in school, or the residential parent has taken a job requiring international relocation.
In such a case, the judge may modify the primary residential parent designation. Nonetheless, the parents will have to settle a modification agreement between them, such as through divorce mediation.