When the parents of a minor child decide to end the marriage, a number of issues relating to the child must be worked out in the subsequent divorce. In the State of Tennessee, as is the case in most states now, the resolutions agreed to regarding the child must be included in a written “Parenting Plan” that must then be approved by the court. What happens, however, if one of the parents fails to abide by the terms of the Parenting Plan post-divorce? A Tennessee divorce attorney explains how to enforce the terms of a Parenting Plan if you find yourself in just such a situation.
What Is Included in a Parenting Plan?
Most states, including Tennessee, no longer use words such as “custody” and “visitation” in their legal statutes. Instead, those terms have been replaced in Tennessee with “residential parent” and “parenting time.” The change in verbiage was part of a new Parenting Plan law that went into effect in 2001 in Tennessee. The overall purpose of the Parenting Plan requirement is to encourage both parents of a minor child to continue to be part of the child’s life after the divorce is finalized. By creating a Parenting Plan, the idea is that the parents will have guidelines in place to help them co-parent post-divorce. Although every Parenting Plan is unique, most will include things such as:
- A schedule that sets forth, in detail, when the child will spend parenting time with each parent during the school year, summer break, and holidays.
- Who will have day-to-day and major decision-making authority.
- Who will pay for things such as medical insurance and expenses, daycare, and extra-curricular activities.
- How much child support one parent will pay to the other.
- How much contact the non-residential parent may have with the child and how that contact may occur (telephone, computer etc.)
- How disputes will be handled.
Who Decides on the Terms of a Parenting Agreement?
Ideally, the parents sit down together and worth through the terms to be included in the Parenting Agreement together. If it becomes clear that the parents are having problems reaching an agreement on the terms, the court may send the parties to mediation in the hope that a mediator can help them. If, despite all attempts to amicably reach an agreement as to the terms of the plan, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the court will step in and create the plan. Once the Parenting Plan has been approved by the court, it becomes part of the final decree of divorce. As such, the terms of the Parenting Plan have the full weight and authority of an order of the court.
Enforcing the Terms of a Parenting Plan
Sometimes, a parent violates a term, or refuses to honor a term, in the Parenting Plan. This could include things such as failing to pay child support, not allowing the other parent input on decisions relating to the child, or refusing to honor the parenting time schedule. When that happens, it is usually a good idea to put your concerns in writing and communicate them to the other parent. If it becomes clear that the parent violating the plan has no intention of resolving the situation amicably, you may need to consult with your divorce attorney about returning to court. Because the terms of the Parenting Plan are orders of the court, violating a term can be the grounds for contempt of court. The court has a variety of tools at its disposal that can help force a party to abide by the terms of the plan, including the ability to modify the plan, levy fines, or even order a period of incarceration for some violations. If your child’s other parent is not following the terms of your Parenting Plan, do not wait too long hoping that the situation will resolve itself. The sooner you act to enforce your rights, and/or those of your child, the better for everyone involved.
Contact a Tennessee Divorce Attorney
If you have questions about enforcing a Parenting Plan, or about divorce in general, in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee divorce lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.