Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live with in a Tennessee Divorce?

When children are part of the divorce process, it often makes the entire process more difficult for everyone involved – especially the children. If a child is too young to express opinions on life after the divorce, the parents are left to iron out those details. What happens though with an older child who does have an opinion about where he/she wants to live post-divorce? A Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby discusses whether a child can decide which parent to live with in a Tennessee divorce.

How Does Custody Work in a Tennessee Divorce?

People still use the term “custody” to refer to which parent lives with a child most of time after a divorce; however, the law no longerchild-castody-banner uses that term. Instead, the State of Tennessee uses the term “Primary Residential Parent (PRP)” to refer to the parent with whom the child lives most of the time and “Alternative Residential Parent (ARP)” for the other “non-custodial” parent. Tennessee law also dictates that when a court must make custody decisions, “the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child.” As such, although one parent may end up being the PRP, the goal is to try and fashion a Parenting Plan that gives the ARP as much time as possible with the child.

Do My Child’s Wishes Matter?

If your child is old enough to understand what is happening and to have a good idea how life will look after the divorce, your child may express his/her wishes regarding where he/she lives after the divorce. If so, make sure that it is your child expressing those wishes as opposed to you influencing your child to choose one parent over the other. If a judge thinks that you are pressuring your child to pick you over the other parent, it will likely decrease the likelihood of you being awarded as the PRP.

The law does, however, acknowledge the wishes of an older child in a divorce if the child has a preference. Specifically, the law states that “A court shall consider the reasonable preference of the child, if twelve (12) years of age or older. The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preference of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children.”

This means that if your child is at least 12 years old, the court must consider his/her wishes if the child wants to express them or is called by the court to do so. If your child is younger than 12, the court has discretion whether to consider your child’s wishes or not. 

Will the Court Honor My Child’s Wishes?

Even if the law requires a judge to consider the wishes of your child, that does not mean that the judge will honor those wishes. When a judge makes a decision that impacts a child in a divorce, the judge must ultimately make that decision using the “best interest of the child” standard. That means that while your child’s wishes may be considered, there are numerous other factors the judge is also required to consider when deciding who will be the PRP. 

Finally, it is important to consider the overall impact it will have on your child if he/she testifies during your divorce. Your child is effectively being asked to pick one parent over the other in what may be a highly contentious divorce proceeding. Doing so could negatively impact your child and his/her future relationship with the other parent. As such, be sure to discuss the issue with your divorce attorney before deciding if your child should testify.

Contact a Murfreesboro Divorce Attorney 

If you have additional questions or concerns about your child deciding which parent to live with in a Tennessee divorce, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.


Dinah Michael