Uncertainty surrounding child custody is a significant concern for many divorcing parents. You may be asking yourself, “What will happen to the children?”, “Will we share custody?”, “What are the rules for visitation?”, “What about child support?”. These questions are perhaps the most consequential in any divorce proceeding involving children. While determining custody arrangements for the children after legal separation or divorce is one of the most difficult decisions a couple has to make, our experienced divorce attorney are here to ensure that your custody agreement is designed with the best interest of your child in mind. At MHPS, we have experience in Nashville, Franklin, and throughout Middle Tennessee to answer these questions for you, before, during, and after a permanent parenting plan is entered.
Types of Child Custody in Tennessee–Child Custody Laws
Tennessee child custody laws provide that a Court has the authority to award “care, custody, and control” of a child to either or both of the parents, after balancing and carefully weighing the factors used to determine what arrangement is in the child’s best interest. If the court determines that a parent has willfully abandoned his or her child for at least 18 months, the parents’ involvement will be limited.
There are two types of child custody agreements — physical and legal.
- Physical custody refers to the amount of time a parent is permitted to be with their child.
- Legal custody refers to the decision-making rights the parent has in regards to their child’s welfare, such as health and education.
In addition, the court can further pare down child custody to sole, primary, or joint custody.
- Sole custody means one parent is the only caregiver of their child without input from the other parent.
- Primary custody means one parent is the primary decision-maker of their child. Although the noncustodial parent has a say in how the child’s care, the custodial parent makes the decisions.
Joint custody is when both parents share custody of their child. In this case, both parents make all decisions together.
What Factors Determine Custody?
In Tennessee, specific factors determine custody and visitation rights, including:
- How the parent has nurtured the child since his/her birth;
- Each parent’s current economic situation and his/her future financial prospects;
- The child’s ability to adjust to his/her school, community, and home;
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to encourage and foster a continuing relationship between the child and the other parent;
- The behavior and personality of each parent and;
- The preference of the child, if the child is at least 12 years old.
What Rights Do Noncustodial Parents Have?
With the best interests of the child in mind, noncustodial parents in Tennessee have certain rights when it comes to their children. Rights for noncustodial parents include:
- Notification of important information as soon as possible, but within 24 hours of the medical emergency;
- The right to access records and correspondence from their child’s school;
- The right to receive medical records;
- The right to unimpeded telephone calls at least twice a week;
- The right to be free of any derogatory remarks about family members in the presence of their child;
- 48 hours notice of any extra-curricular activities;
- Access to mail, without the other parent’s interference (i.e. unopened, uncensored);
- The right to receive an itinerary when the other parent leaves the state with their child for more than two days; and
- The right of access to and participation in their child’s education and related activities.
How To Petition for Child Custody in Tennessee
If the parents are currently married and wish to be divorced, child custody must be decided as part and parcel of the divorce. If two parents have never been married, then the parent seeking to establish a residential schedule will have to file a Petition for a Permanent Parenting Plan. Each parent will be required to attend a parenting class, whether the parents are divorcing or simply establishing a parenting plan. If the parents reach an agreement on a Parenting Plan, the courts will review the parenting plan before approval to ensure it is in the child’s best interest. In the event that an agreement cannot be reached, each parent will be required to present proof to the Court as to why their proposed plan is in the best interest of the child, and the Court will make a determination on the proof through a careful balancing of the factors.
How Our Nashville Child Custody Lawyers Can Help
Even if the parents can agree on a child custody plan, it’s still up to the judge to rule that the settlement is in the best interests of the child. Except in unusual circumstances, an agreement between the parents that avoids contentious litigation is generally considered to be in the child’s best interests.
Our Nashville child custody lawyers understand how difficult this situation can be. We will do whatever possible to protect your relationship with your children. If you are going through a divorce or you need help with your child custody arrangement in Nashville, Springfield, Franklin, or in Middle Tennessee, contact a child custody lawyer at MHPS today for more information.