Tennessee Child Custody Questions

Tennessee child custody attorneys provide answers to frequently asked questions with regards to Tennessee child custody laws and custody in Tennessee.

Who will get custody of our child?

If you and your spouse can agree to a custody arrangement, you will decide which spouse gets custody of your children. If you and your spouse do not agree, the court will determine the custodial arrangement based on the best interest of the child.

What is joint custody? What is sole custody?

In Tennessee, we have both “physical” and “legal” custody. Legal custody concerns decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and welfare. Physical custody concerns the child’s day-to-day living arrangements.

If both parents share custody does anyone pay child support?

Yes, in Tennessee child support is based off the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. If parents share 50-50/equal parenting time, child support is based upon each parent having one hundred eighty-two and one-half (182.5) days of parenting time.

Can a parent refuse to allow visitation if child support is not paid?

No, child support is a completely different and independent issue from the right of visitation. If a parent refuses to pay child support, the other parent should file a Petition for Contempt.

When can my child decide which parent to live with?

Under Tennessee statute, the court shall consider the reasonable preference of the child over the age of 12. The court may choose to hear the preference of a child under the age of 12. The preference of the child is one factor that the court will consider in determining the best interests of the children.

Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights?

Grandparents seeking custody from a natural parent raises issues of constitutional rights, specifically the right to privacy. If grandparents and natural parents become involved in a custody dispute, the parent will not lose custody without a showing of parental unfitness or a showing of substantial harm to the child.

What is a parenting plan, and do I need one?

In Tennessee, all divorcing parents enter into a Permanent Parenting Plan. The Permanent Parenting Plan accounts for the physical and legal custody of your children.

If my separation agreement includes custody/support can it be included in the divorce decree?

This is not applicable in Tennessee.

What can I expect from temporary orders?

The court may order temporary child support during the litigation. The Tennessee Child Support Guidelines apply to temporary support orders.

When will child custody be decided?

Custody can be decided at any point between the parties. A court can award temporary custody if requested by either of the parties. Custody may be decided at mediation. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, custody will be decided by the court at a trial.

When can I modify custody?

The standard for modifying child custody is a material and substantial change in circumstance that affects the best interest of the child.

What if we cannot agree on a custody arrangement?

If you and the other parent cannot agree to a child custody arrangement, the court will determine the custody arrangement. The court will determine the custodial arrangement that is in the child’s best interest.

What is an ex parte order?

An ex parte order is a temporary order that is granted without notice of hearing to the other side. These orders are unusual and only issued in certain circumstances. An ex parte order is only issued for a certain period of time. For example, if one parent alleges physical abuse, the court may grant an ex parte order.

How is custody decided?

If parents cannot agree to a custodial arrangement, the court determines custody based on the best interest of the child.

How can I increase my chances at getting a larger custody agreement?

The court will base custody on the best interests of the child. You will want to speak to an attorney about anything you can do to increase your chances at getting a larger custody agreement.

What is visitation?

In Tennessee, the term is parenting time. Parenting time refers to the number of days each parent has physical custody of the child.

Can a judge order supervised visitation or no visitation?

The court’s job is to determine visitation that is in the best interest of the minor children. Under certain circumstances, the judge may order supervised visitation. Termination of parental rights is something that you should discuss with your attorney.

Do courts favor the mother over the father?

No, in Tennessee gender is not a factor in awarding custody. In years past, the court favored awarding mother custody if the children were of tender years. However, the “tender years presumption” no longer exists in Tennessee.

What should I know before a custody trial?

The court will award custody based on the best interest of the child. Your attorney can offer no assurances as to the outcome of any custody litigation.

Can I collect my own evidence to use if my custody case goes to court?

Yes. You should discuss with your attorney any evidence that you plan to collect. You should be aware that there are state and federal wiretapping laws that must be strictly complied with by you and your attorney.

Do I need to use a Guardian ad Litem/Custody Evaluator?

A Guardian ad Litem is not necessary in most cases. Either party may request a Guardian ad Litem be appointed by the court. In some cases, the court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem without a request from either party.

Will my child need to appear in court?

Probably not. Most of the time the judges, lawyers, and parties prefer to keep children, especially young children, out of court.

What is the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act?

Congress passed the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) in 1980. The purpose of PKPA was to prioritize jurisdictional grounds to prevent states from fighting over jurisdiction over child custody issues.

What if my wife tries to move the kids out state?

Neither party can relocate out of the state while a divorce is pending. After the divorce, the primary residential parent can relocate after giving the appropriate notice to the other parent. For the alternative residential parent to defeat a relocation of the child by the primary residential parent, the parent must prove a substantial risk of harm to the child if custody remained the same.

Can a parent change the child’s last name without the other parent’s permission?

Usually no. If parents are unmarried, Tennessee case law states that the child’s last name is mother’s preference.

If I have custody, will I receive child support?

Most likely. However, under the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines, it is possible for the alternative residential parent to receive child support from the primary residential parent.