Child Custody and Visitation
As parents navigate their divorce or legal separation, the issue that often weighs heaviest on their minds is child custody. After all, what happens to the children once the divorce is finalized?
Parents filing for divorce or legal separation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, are required to attend a four-hour parenting class and enter into a court-approved child custody arrangement called a “Parenting Plan.” The Parenting Plan includes the physical living arrangements of the child(ren) (including holidays, birthdays, vacations, etc.), the parents’ respective decision-making rights with respect to the child(ren) (education, health care, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing, etc.), and child support responsibilities. If the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the Parenting Plan, the court will make a decision based on a number of factors, including:
- The location of the residences of the parents
- The nature of the child’s relationship with each parent
- Who has performed the majority of parenting responsibilities in the past, and the willingness/ability of each parent to perform parenting responsibilities in the future
- The willingness of each parent to facilitate and encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent and to follow court orders
- The child’s need for stability and continuity, including the child’s relationship with siblings and other relatives and the child’s involvement with his/her physical surroundings (school, activities, etc.)
- The ability of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care
- The reasonable preference of any child over the age of 12 (the court may choose to hear the preference of a child under the age of 12)
- The moral, physical, mental and emotional fitness of each parent as it relates to their ability to parent the child
- The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person’s interactions with the child
- Any history of domestic abuse or child negligence
In short, judges tend to determine child custody arrangements with the best interests of the child or children in mind. If you are entering a child custody dispute and are considering hiring a Murfreesboro child custody lawyer, you may want to be familiar with the basics of custody arrangements.
Commonly used when describing a child custody arrangement, “sole custody” or “full custody” typically means that the child resides with just one parent who has full decision-making authority with respect to the child, and “joint custody” means that the child resides with both parents and both parents have decision-making authority. Under Tennessee law, courts must order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child, subject to the factors listed above. Tennessee Parenting Plans use the terms “primary residential parent,” or PRP, to refer to the parent with whom a child lives more than 50% of the time and “alternative residential parent,” or ARP, to refer to the other parent. Tennessee Parenting Plans separate decision-making authority from residential time, which can be allocated by topic, such as education or medical decisions.
“Child visitation” commonly refers to the time a non-custodial parent spends with the child. However, Tennessee Parenting Plans refer to this as “parenting time,” “residential time,” or “visitation time.” Unless there is abandonment, abuse, or other extraordinary circumstance, the parent not chosen as the primary residential parent will typically be awarded visitation time with the child.
It should be noted that, in Tennessee, if the child’s parents are unmarried when the child is born, then the court will typically grant full legal and physical custody rights to the child’s mother unless the father proves paternity and formally asserts his legal paternal rights, at which point the court would determine a Parenting Plan based on the best interests of the child as described above.
Temporary Child Custody in Tennessee
Temporary child custody comes up in cases wherein the initial divorce case is being presented to the court, and issues like child support and child visitation are still being decided. A temporary order called a “pendente lite” order (“pendente lite” is Latin for “pending the litigation,”) specifies how parents are to handle custody, child support, and other matters while their case is in progress. If both parents agree on how to handle matters while the case is in progress, a temporary agreement can be put in place without having to go to a court hearing for a temporary order. If the parents can’t agree, each parent can submit their proposed temporary parenting plan to the judge and attend a court hearing, where the judge will decide what arrangement is in the best interest of the child. The pendente lite order will also typically address temporary child support until the divorce is finalized.
At Hudson, Reed & Christiansen, PLLC, our attorneys know the legal requirements around child custody arrangements in Tennessee and can guide our clients. If you are undergoing a divorce or legal separation, and have questions about child custody, reach out today.