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What You Should Know About Joint Custody in Tennessee

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What Do You Need to Know About Joint Custody in Tennessee?

If you are involved in a divorce and share a child with your former spouse, a parenting plan will eventually be required as part of your legal proceedings to settle matters relating to custody. It can often be challenging for exes to agree upon a parenting plan, particularly if they are not on good terms with one another. Whether you are able to work out a mutually beneficial parenting plan with the assistance of your respective legal teams or you reach an impasse, and the court creates a plan for you, there exists a strong possibility that you will be involved in some variety of joint custody situation.

Understanding how joint custody works and how the court makes custody determinations can be crucial in preparing yourself for the divorce process. The assistance of a knowledgeable child custody attorney can make a positive difference in your case and help you work toward a ruling that is beneficial for you and your child.

What is Custody?

Child custody refers to the legal relationship a parent has with their child. Married parents share all custody rights equally as a couple, but if the marriage ends, a plan outlining each parent’s rights and responsibilities must be made and approved by the court. Child custody can be split into two categories:

  • Legal custody: The authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf about important decisions regarding their health, education, upbringing, religious learning, extra-curricular activities, and more.
  • Physical custody: Refers to where the child lives and who is responsible for their daily care.

Each category of custody rights may be given exclusively to one parent (sole custody) or split between both parents (joint custody). Joint custody is the court’s preferred arrangement because having a strong, healthy relationship with both parents is usually the most beneficial for the child’s well-being. That said, the court makes custody determinations on a case-by-case basis and may decide that sole physical and/or legal custody is in the child’s best interests. Certain unusual circumstances may lead to a sole custody arrangement, such as domestic violence or sexual abuse charges against one parent or long-term non-payment of child support.

Is Joint Custody the Same as 50/50 Custody?

It’s a common misconception that joint custody means that each parent will have physical custody of their child 50% of the time. While it may be possible for some families to make a true 50/50 custody arrangement work, it generally is not practical. It could even cause severe stress and disruption in your child’s life as they move between residences.

In most joint custody scenarios, the parents will have an equal say in meaningful decisions in their child’s life, but one parent will be designated as the “primary residential parent” because the child spends more time living at their home. Tennessee law does not provide a clear definition of what constitutes joint physical custody, but in many states, even a 70/30 split is considered joint custody. The exact nature of your joint custody arrangement will be outlined in the terms of your parenting agreement.

How is Custody Determined in Tennessee?

The court’s goal is to order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the child’s life while centering the child’s need for stability, care, and other essentials that could impact their well-being. The court also takes into account the child’s preference if they are over the age of 12, as well as any evidence of prior parental or familial abuse. Because every case is unique, Tennessee law does not include a specific formula for determining a custody arrangement. Instead, the court determines the best interest of the child in a custody dispute by considering all relevant factors, as specified in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent.
  • The parents’ willingness to facilitate a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community.
  • The mental and emotional fitness of each parent.
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs.
  • How the parents divided responsibility for caregiving duties prior to the divorce.
  • The work schedule and availability of both parents.
  • The relationship between the child and household members, including siblings and other relatives.

Can You Negotiate a Joint Custody Plan With Your Ex?

Some divorces are more acrimonious than others, and, unfortunately, child custody can become a painful and challenging topic that the parties are unable to resolve without the court’s intervention. However, if you and your former spouse can devise a mutually agreeable Permanent Parenting Plan through negotiation or mediation, you may present it to the court for approval. As long as the court finds your plan’s terms reasonable and in your child’s best interests, it will likely approve your agreement. Negotiating your parenting plan as part of your divorce settlement can often be the best way to foster a healthy co-parenting relationship with your spouse and ensure your child’s needs are met.

Taking the custody determination out of the court’s hands gives you more leeway to design a flexible and creative plan that fits your unique family situation. It’s vital to enlist the services of a skilled child custody lawyer who can guide negotiations and work through any points of contention that may arise during the process. Your lawyer will be familiar with the state’s laws and regulations regarding parenting plans and will ensure all your documents are in order before you present them to the court.

How Can Our Law Firm Help You?

Few legal issues are as sensitive and personal as child custody. During the aftermath of a divorce, it can be hard to imagine spending time away from your children or having to communicate with your ex regularly about parenting topics. Custody battles require compassionate yet strong legal representation. An experienced Tennessee child custody lawyer from the Law Office of Hibbeler & Associates can answer your questions, guide you through every step of the legal process, and fight to protect your parental rights. We will take the time to understand your situation and provide personalized legal solutions to help you move forward with your life. To schedule a free 30-minute case evaluation, contact our law firm today at 931-236-2711.

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