When a couple decides to end a marriage, a number of issues must be resolved during the divorce process that follows that decision. If you are contemplating divorce, or have already decided to proceed with a divorce, and you have minor children, one of the most important issues you will need to decide is who will have custody of the children. In Tennessee, custody arrangements are reflected in a court order called a Parenting Plan.
When children are involved in a divorce, custody must be determined either by agreement of the parties or by the court. Either parent can have physical custody, legal custody, or both. These days, physical custody (now referred to as parenting time) is normally shared between both parents, each having the child physically present in their individual homes on certain days and times. The more the parties have demonstrated the ability to work well together, communicate with each other, and co-parent even after the separation, the more likely that parenting time will be equal. If physical custody is shared it also may require the parents to live close to each other so the child is always close to school, for example.
Legal custody refers to the ability to make major decisions regarding the minor child. Decisions regarding education, religion, non-emergency medical treatment, or extracurricular activities, for example, are also designated in the parenting plan. Joint legal custody (decision making) in these areas is very common because it allows both parents to have input into important decision affecting the minor child without requiring the degree of cooperation that joint physical custody may require.
Whether you are still contemplating divorce, or have already made the decision to pursue a divorce in Tennessee, it is important to consult with an experienced Tennessee family law attorney as soon as possible to make sure that your rights, and those of your children are all protected throughout the divorce process.