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Child Custody

The custody of minor children is often the primary concern for separating and divorcing couples. In Tennessee custody is called “Parenting Responsibilities”—a term that refers both to the actual physical care of the child as well as to the right and the responsibility to provide for the child’s physical, mental, moral, and emotional well being.

Tennessee law encourages both parents’ participation in their child’s life, to the extent that is consistent with the child’s “best interest.” In Tennessee, custody laws are geared toward promoting shared decision-making and limiting animosity between parents. Tennessee law includes no gender preference in custody determinations. However, fathers are often concerned that such a preference will arise against them.

Nashville attorney Amanda Raye Thornton is dedicated to advocating for fathers’ rights in the context of child custody. If you are facing a dispute with your spouse regarding child custody during or after divorce or separation, please contact our office today. The passage of time may create “facts on the ground” that will affect any future custody determinations. Act now to protect your rights, by reading the information below and then calling or emailing to schedule a consultation.

Before granting a divorce to the parents of minor children, the court will require the parents to attend a parent education seminar as well as an alternative dispute resolution (i.e. mediation) session, and to attempt to negotiate a parenting plan.

The Parenting Plan

In any action for divorce or legal separation, each party must submit a Proposed Parenting Plan. The goals of a Parenting Plan are to minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict and to provide for the child’s changing needs. Such plans must spell out the parenting rights and obligations of each parent.

The plan must name a Primary Residential Parent—in other words the parent with whom the child will reside more than 50% of the time. It must also detail the residential schedule for the child, providing a written calendar that should minimize future conflict by letting both children and parents know where the child is to spend his or her time (including various holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations, and other special occasions).

The parenting plan must also allocate major decision-making, especially in the areas of education, health care, extracurricular activity involvement, and religion. Both parents may be authorized to make those decisions.

Parenting Plans must also include any award of child support payable by one parent to the other, and require the non-residential parent to annually report his or her income to the other parent. Such plans also provide for dispute resolution mechanisms.

Any Parenting Plan that the parents can agree on becomes effective once it is approved by a judge, after the court determines whether the plan serves the best interest of the child. If, however, the parents cannot agree on a plan, the judge will allocate all the parenting responsibilities and obligations detailed above.

Court-Ordered Parenting Responsibilities

If parents can’t submit a mutually agreeable parenting plan to the court, a judge will have to determine the arrangements that are in the best interest of the child or children involved. In making this decision, the judge must take into consideration the following factors:

  • each parent’s ability to instruct, inspire, and encourage the child;
  • the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • the willingness of each parent to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent;
  • the ability of each parent to provide for the child;
  • the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver in the past;
  • the emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
  • the emotional fitness of each parent;
  • any evidence of abuse by a parent;
  • the reasonable preference of the child (if the child is 12 years of age or older);
  • any other factors considered relevant by the court.

Whether you need knowledgeable assistance in drafting a proposed parenting plan, or an effective advocate to represent you in court, Nashville attorney Amanda Raye Thornton stands ready to use her drafting, negotiation, and litigation skills on your behalf. We also help clients who are seeking modifications to existing custody orders.

We understand that in all the upheaval of a divorce, the well-being of your children is the most important consideration. To schedule a consultation, please call us at (615) 804-6684, email me, or fill out and submit our online “Contact Us” form.