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Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody in Tennessee

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What Do You Need to Know About Tennessee Child Custody Laws?

In 2001, Tennessee House Bill 1512 amended the state’s laws regarding the criteria for determining custody and child support, updated the official terminology used in court, and replaced custody agreements with permanent parenting plans. While you may still hear some lawyers and judges use “sole custody” or “custodial parent” due to habit, those terms no longer have a meaningful legal definition. 

Child custody is a highly emotional topic. It can be difficult to contemplate how your custody situation will look following your divorce, but it is critical to contact a lawyer immediately to begin creating your plan so you can maintain stability for your child. A knowledgeable Tennessee child custody lawyer can answer some frequently asked questions about the state’s custody laws so you fully understand your legal rights and options when making your permanent parenting plan.

What is a Permanent Parenting Plan and How is It Created in Tennessee?

A permanent parenting plan is required to finalize any divorce that involves minor children. It is a detailed written agreement that designates parental responsibilities for a child. The plan consists of three main parts:

  • Allocation of decision-making responsibilities.
  • Creation of a residential schedule that determines the child’s physical residence on any given day of the year.
  • Awarding child support.

A temporary parenting plan will likely be implemented as soon as possible to fill the gap until a permanent plan is created. Tennessee requires parents to attend a four-hour parenting course before creating their permanent plan. Failure to participate in this course could negatively impact the outcome of your custody proceedings. Preferably, parents will negotiate their own parenting plan and submit it to the court, where a judge will review it. If it is found to be sufficient, it will be approved.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the parents must attend mediation unless the court waives it. If mediation is unsuccessful, both parents will create their own plan and submit it to the judge 45 days before the trial. The judge then has the authority to choose one of the plans or create their own based on the child’s best interests.

What is a Primary Residential Parent (PRP) and an Alternative Residential Parent (ARP)?

The primary residential parent (PRP) is defined by Tennessee state law as the parent of the household where the child physically spends over 50% of their time. The alternative residential parent (ARP) is the other parent who has less parenting time than the PRP. The law stresses the importance of both parents playing a role in the child’s life. Unless the other parent has a history of abuse or another rare mitigating circumstance, they will receive at least some parenting time.

A residential schedule designates parenting time. This schedule specifies which days the child will spend at each parent’s residence and should include provisions for special occasions, such as holidays and vacations. Some couples prefer to work out a plan to split parenting time equally; however, in these cases, a PRP must still be designated for legal purposes.

Does the ARP Always Pay Child Support to the PRP?

In Tennessee, child support is awarded based on complex formulas that consider each parent’s financial situation, the costs for the child’s needs, their standard of living, the amount of time they spend in each parent’s residence, and other information.

In most situations, the ARP will end up paying child support to the PRP based on these calculations. But this is not guaranteed. Certain financial circumstances could lead to the PRP paying support to the ARP.

What is “Final Decision-Making Authority”?

Parenting time is only one aspect of the parenting responsibilities assigned in a parenting plan. While each parent will have the authority to make day-to-day decisions regarding the child while they are in their residence, the parenting plan will assign one parent final decision-making authority for important topics that impact the child’s health, well-being, and upbringing. It should be noted that one parent does not necessarily get to have final decision-making authority on every topic, and the parents or the court may choose to assign different topics to each parent based on their situation. For example, one parent may be given authority for health and religious decisions, while the other is responsible for schooling and extracurricular activity choices.

Ideally, your plan for decision-making authority should be robust enough to grow with your child as their needs change and should be designed to promote cooperation and limit harmful disagreements. Of course, issues may arise that cause conflict, and no parent has the absolute right to make critical decisions without input from the other parent, regardless of the responsibilities assigned. Even if you do not have final decision-making authority on a topic, you may take the issue to a dispute resolution process, such as mediation, if there is an inability to resolve the disagreement through good-faith discussions.

Does Tennessee Custody Law Favor Mothers?

By law, the court cannot allow the gender of either parent to influence their choices on parenting time and decision-making responsibilities. Instead, the court must base its judgments on the best interests of the child.

Tennessee code lists factors that can help the court determine what decision is in the child’s best interests, such as:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent.
  • The ability of the parent to provide a safe, stable environment and meet the child’s care needs.
  • The emotional and physical fitness of the parent and how that could impact the child.
  • The child’s relationship with their siblings and others at each parent’s residence.
  • Where the child has friends, school, activities, and support systems.
  • The child’s preferences if they are over 12 and the request appears reasonable and uncoerced.

How Can Our Law Firm Assist You?

Crafting a well-thought-out and detailed parenting plan is crucial to your child’s current and future well-being, but it can be overwhelming to negotiate this agreement on your own, particularly if you are going through a contentious divorce. Your parental rights are precious and must be protected, no matter the circumstances. For the strong, compassionate legal services you need, contact the Law Office of Hibbeler & Associates today at 931-236-2711.

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