Tennessee law requires that child custody decisions be made based in the best interests of the child. But what does that mean? It’s important to understand the factors that go into deciding the best interests of the child and what do you need to know as a parent.
Best Interests of the Child
Many factors go into deciding what is in the best interests of the child, including but not limited to:
- The behavior and living arrangements of both parents
- The child’s preferences if the child is old enough to have a mature opinion—typically, this happens around age 12, but the exact age is dependent on the child
- The child’s stability in the current home, school, and community, and how a possible move could impact the child
- The child’s ability to adjust to a new home, school, or community
- Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s education, religious training, food, shelter, and healthcare needs
- Each parent’s parenting skills
- Each parent’s willingness to encourage a continued relationship between the child and the other parent
- Either parent’s past issues of domestic violence, child abuse, child endangerment, drug use, or alcohol abuse
- Each parent’s mental and physical health
- The custodial parent’s willingness to go along with a new custody or visitation arrangement
- The opinions of anyone who can testify about what is in the child’s best interest
If a child’s parents can’t come to their own custody agreement, the court will consider the factors above and award custody to one or both parents.
Child Custody Options
There are two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical child custody refers to where a child lives, and legal child custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions for a child about things such as education, medical care, and religious upbringing.
Generally, Tennessee courts prefer to award joint physical and legal custody to parents, if possible. However, any of the following child custody arrangements may be considered by the court:
- Sole custody where one parent has legal and physical custody of the child
- Joint conservatorship where one parent has legal custody of the child, but both parents share physical custody of the child
- Joint legal and physical conservatorship where both parents share physical custody and legal decision-making authority for the child
In some cases, sole custody may be awarded to one parent, and the other parent may have supervised parenting time. Supervised parenting time typically occurs after domestic abuse, neglect, or substance abuse. If unsupervised visitation would place your child in physical danger or under considerable stress, the court may allow supervised parenting time. In this type of arrangement, your child visits with the non-custodial parent but only under the supervision of a professional or a friend or relative with whom your child is comfortable.
What If One Parent Wants to Move?
A parent’s move can significantly impact a child. Accordingly, Tennessee has requirements about how a parent’s move should be handled if the parent plans to move more than 100 miles away. Specifically:
- The moving parent must provide notice to the other parent at least 60 days before moving.
- The notice of the move must include a statement of intent to move, the new address, the reasons for the move, and a statement that allows the non-moving parent to object to the move within 30 days.
When deciding how a move may impact child custody, the court will consider:
- The stability of the child’s current home, school, and community and how a change could impact the child
- How likely the parent with primary physical custody is to comply with a new custody and visitation schedule
- The child’s preference about where to live if the child is old enough and mature enough to make these kinds of decisions
Protect Your Child During a Divorce
You want what is best for your child, and that is precisely the standard that the court is supposed to consider during child custody negotiations. However, you need to present the right evidence to the court to explain what is in your child’s best interests if you and your child’s other parent can’t agree on a custody arrangement. Our Middle Tennessee divorce and child custody lawyers are here to help you. Contact us today to learn more about protecting your family.