Many parents put off separation and divorce for a simple reason. They either fear that their parting will be detrimental to their child’s wellbeing – or can’t imagine a life without their son or daughter’s daily interaction. Meanwhile, Tennessee courts also take children’s welfare quite seriously. In fact, the bottom line in child custody decisions centers on your child’s best interests.
What exactly are your child’s best interests? All things considered, it might appear entirely subjective to you. After all, how does a judge make a determination without spending time with you and your family? What you should know that the law offers some guidance in evaluating situations as they are presented for judicial review. And, you and your child’s other parent can also propose parenting plans.
TN Code § 36-6-106 contains the general provisions for child custody and visitation used in proceedings involving minor children. These rules are applicable in all types of situations, including cases where the parents were never married or in the process of annulment or divorce proceedings.
The court considers many issues in establishing what constitutes a child’s best interests. For starters, it is critical to ascertain how the parents’ geographical location impacts custody and visitation. No doubt a child’s need for consistency and stability is crucial. In the meantime, fifteen other factors are also evaluated in determining a child’s best interests.
Best Interests Considerations
When it comes to making decisions about custody and visitation, Tennessee courts take a holistic approach to appraising what best represents the child’s best interests. This is accomplished by finding answers to these questions:
- What is the child’s current relationship with both parents? Is there evidence of the strength, nature or stability? Has one parent devoted more time to the child’s daily needs than the other?
- What about past and potential for future parenting responsibilities? Does it appear that the parents are willing and able to facilitate and encourage the child’s relationship with both parents? Is there a chance that one parent might attempt to interfere with court-ordered parenting arrangements?
- Has either of the parents refused to attend a court-ordered parent education seminar?
- What is the parent’s overall ability as far as providing the child with ordinary necessities?
- Has one of the parents acted more as the child’s primary caretaker, defined as taking on more parental responsibilities?
- What evidence is there as far as the love, affection, and emotional ties between each of the parents and the child?
- Are there issues as far as the child’s emotional needs and developmental levels?
- Will it be necessary for either of the parents to undergo evaluations concerning their ability to parent the child? Each of the parent’s moral, physical, mental and emotional fitness is considered in making decisions regarding the child’s best interests.
- How does the child interact and interrelate with siblings, other relatives and those related by remarriage? Does the child have friends or other interactions in the neighborhood, school or as a result of other activities?
- Has the child enjoyed a stable, satisfactory environment for any particular length of time? The court will give weight to maintaining continuity as much as possible.
- Is there evidence that the child has been physically or emotionally abused by either parent?
- Are there concerns about the character or behavior of someone who lives with one of the parents or frequently visits them?
- Is the child over the age of 12? The court may give deference to the child’s wishes. It may also entertain the preferences of younger children.
- What are the parent’s work schedules?
- Are there other issues that should be considered as potentially adverse to the child’s best interests?
Custody and visitation are among the most delicate issues that arise during separation and divorce. Unfortunately, some parents use their children as hurtful tools. The best interest doctrine is prevalent in many states – as it is designed to protect those who cannot speak for themselves.
At Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC, we handle custody and visitation disputes with your child’s best interests in mind. We understand how emotional these types of cases and can be and help our clients by listening and providing experienced legal advice. Need assistance? Contact us to schedule an appointment.