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Tennessee Child Custody
Child Custody in Tennessee

According to Tennessee Code - Title 36, Sections 36-6-106, based on the best interest of the child, the court may award custody to either parent or to both parents for joint custody or shared parenting.

As in most states, Tennessee law requires that the court consider the best interest of a child in deciding custody.

Custody can be either joint or sole. Either parent may be awarded sole custody, which means that that parent has legal and physical custody of the child. Parents can be awarded joint conservatorship, which means one parent holds legal custody of the child and both hold shared physical possession of the child. The court may also award joint legal and physical conservatorship, which permits each parent to share physical custody of the child and have equal say in the child's upbringing.

In Tennessee the custodial parent who does not involve himself or herself in the child's development risks losing custody to a parent prepared to make those sacrifices.

Tennessee courts look unfavorably on constant and frequent moves. The behavior and actions of all individuals who share the child's home, including live-in romantic interests of the custodial parent, is also subject to scrutiny. When the court finds an unhealthy environment or exposure to inappropriate influences in the residential neighborhood and the school district, it removes the child.

Custody is contingent on several factors. In Tennessee the courts considers:

  • the child's wishes or preferences as to custody, provided that he or she is mature enough to make such claims, which is normally at age 12 or older;
  • the child's stability with regards to his/her current home, school, and community and whether or not a change will disrupt that stability;
  • the child's ability to adjust to his/her school, community, and home.
  • the parents' capability to provide for the child's needs such as education, religious training, food, shelter, medical care, etc;
  • the parent's parenting skills and willingness to encourage and foster a continuing relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse;
  • the mental or physical health of the parties involved in the proceedings.
  • the custodian's willingness to comply with a new custody arrangement or visitation schedule; and
  • the testimony provided by any party, or by the court itself, who can testify what is best for the child.

A custody hearing will be held if the parents are unable to come to a fair, agreement about custody.

The court has discretion to take into consideration the interests of the child even if the child is younger, but the court must weigh the other evidence presented to see what is genuinely best for the child.

A custody order can be temporarily modified when the custodial parent is called for active military duty. The original custody arrangement is reinstated after the deployment.

Relocation and Child Custody in Tennessee

A parent who plans to move more than 100 miles must serve a notice to the child's other parent 60 days prior to the move. The notice includes a statement of the intent to move, the address of the new location, the reasons for the relocation and a statement that the child's other parent may oppose the move within 30 days.

In considering the move, the court weighs:

  • the importance of continuity in the child's life, considering the stability of the child's current home, school, and community;
  • whether the custodial parent will comply with a new custody and visitation schedule;
  • the child's preference, if the child is of an age and maturity level to make an informed decision, which is 12 or older.

Preferential Treatment Towards Mothers

In Tennessee, either parent has an equal right to custody of the child. Until 1997, Tennessee considered the gender of the parent when awarding physical possession of a child 7 years of age and under. The preference, called the "Tender Years Doctrine," is no longer in effect, and the court no longer considers the gender of a parent in determining custody rights.

Joint Custody Preference

Joint custody can be assigned in many forms and depends on the facts of the case. Joint custody is increasingly common in cases where the parties will continue to reside in the same vicinity. Parents who can reach an accord about custody on their own should present it to the court. Tennessee law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as practically possible in the custody of a child in a divorce case.

Parental Conduct

The courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child.

In determining custody, the court considers any history of domestic violence in the family. An abusive parent is not likely to be granted custody. In fact, the abusive parent may have visitation restricted. Depending on the facts of the case, supervised visitation may be ordered. The court's job is to provide for the safety of children.

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