mail phone icon615-791-8511

Tennessee Family Law: Custody In the Child’s Best Interest

Tennessee child custody law requires that arrangements be made in the best interest of the child.

When a Tennessee parent faces divorce and has a minor child, one of the most stressful aspects is the uncertainty of future child custody arrangements. Where will the child live and go to school? How will important life decisions be made for the child?

The good news is that a divorcing parent may be able to negotiate a marital settlement agreement with his or her soon-to-be ex-spouse that contains a parenting plan addressing all issues of child custody such as the child’s primary residence, a parenting time (visitation) schedule and a blueprint for parental decision-making responsibilities. Agreeing about custody allows each parent to have input, even though compromises may be necessary.

The optimal approach is for each parent to have his or her own legal counsel who can facilitate the negotiation process. An experienced Tennessee family lawyer like Judy A. Oxford in Franklin can take the stress level down to a manageable level because a knowledgeable divorce attorney can educate the divorcing parent about what to expect under Tennessee family laws that govern custody and visitation.

The overarching principle in Tennessee is that the child’s best interest be the primary concern in every aspect of the arrangement. A parenting plan agreement must be submitted to the judge assigned to the divorce proceeding in state court for approval, and while nearly all agreements are approved and incorporated into final divorce decrees, the judge has the discretion to reject the agreement if he or she feels it is not in the best interest of the child.

Traditionally, the term “Custody” has two aspects: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to which parent is in physical control of the child, and legal custody designates which parent will have the authority to make major life decisions for the child. Both kinds of “custody” can be held jointly or solely by just one parent.

Traditionally, a custody arrangement gives primary physical custody to one parent with which the child lives a majority of the time, and gives parenting time or visitation to the other parent, often during evenings, weekends, holidays and summer vacation. Responsibility for major decisions for the child is often jointly held, with both parents making medical, religious, educational and similarly important decisions together. However, Tennessee law explicitly says that no presumptions are to be made for or against joint or sole custody.

Judges are guided by Tennessee statute in determining children’s best interests when formulating a parenting plan. The law emphasizes that the judge shall consider all relevant factors, keeping in mind the child’s “need for stability,” the locations of the parental homes, and that both parents should get “maximum participation” in the child’s life. The law lays out a long list of specific factors to consider if they apply in the particular case, but the list is not exhaustive as the law instructs the judge to consider everything relevant for the particular child.

Some of the enumerated factors:

A Tennessee family lawyer can provide advice and counsel in these matters.