When you begin the divorce process with young children in tow, the question of custody becomes a major issue. Knowing the basics of how Tennessee law approaches custody can help you better understand how to move forward.
Tennessee parents may have legal custody, physical custody or both. Legal custody means having the authority to make decisions about education, medical issues and general well-being. Physical custody means taking care of everyday living.
Parents may divide parenting time equally. In other cases, one parent will have more parenting time than the other. Keeping in mind that, in most situations, children benefit from spending time with both parents; there is no one-size-fits-all arrangement. Important considerations include the parents’ respective work schedules, whether one parent travels for work and the extent of disruption to the child’s schooling and normal life.
Custody is separate from child support
Custody arrangements are not contingent on other issues such as support. Parents may not unilaterally change the schedule to punish the other for missing a payment or for other reasons.
Agreement or court order
Parents may agree on a custody arrangement and mandatory parenting plan to submit to the court for approval. Courts tend to approve agreed-upon plans unless they see a particular problem. If parents cannot come to an agreement, the court will issue a custody order.
The best interest approach
Broadly speaking, courts make custody determinations based on the best interest of the child. Thus, if you want to argue for a particular arrangement, the best approach is to think about how your plan will benefit the child rather than concentrate on your own interests. Assessing a child’s best interests means a close evaluation of his or her circumstances, health, schooling and other relevant factors.
The child’s preference
Courts will also consider the preference of a child over the age of 12 as to his or her custody arrangements. Judges may also choose to take into account the preference of a younger child as part of determining the best course of action.