What Is Physical Custody?

How Difficult Is It to Modify Child Custody?

What Is Physical Custody?

When the parents of a minor child decide to end their marriage, issues relating to the minor child are often the focus of the negotiations – and sometimes litigation — that follow during the divorce process. Before the divorce can be finalized, those issues must all be resolved, including the designation of a primary parent and the completion of a schedule that sets forth when each parent will exercise parenting time with the minor child. What happens if you want to make changes to the child custody terms after the divorce is final? A Murfreesboro parenting modifications lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains the process for requesting a modification of child custody in Tennessee.

Understanding the Terminology

First and foremost, it is helpful to understand the current terminology used by the law. Historically, terms such as “custody” and “visitation” were routinely used in a divorce that involved minor children. Today, however, those terms are no longer used. Instead, the law refers to parents as the “primary residential parent (PRP)” or the “alternative residential parent (ARP)” and the term “parenting time” is used to refer to the time that either the PRP or the ARP spends with a child. The PRP is the parent with whom the child resides most the time. In addition, the PRP typically has more legal authority regarding how the child is raised than the ARP. Is it also important to be familiar with the concept of a Parenting Plan. When parents divorce, the court must approve a Parenting Plan that addresses issues related to the minor children, including things such as a parenting time schedule, child support, and how conflicts between the parents will be resolved in the future. The terms of that Parenting Plan become orders of the court and as such, must be obeyed by all parties until the court decides to change those orders.

Modifying the Parenting Plan

The first question to ask is whether you only want to change the parenting time schedule or you wish to change the designated primary residential parent (PRP). Changing the designated PRP will not be easy, particularly if the child appears to be thriving with the current designation. Making a change to the parenting time schedule requires you to meet a lower standard than changing the designated PRP. In Tennessee, changing the designated PRP requires a parent to show that there has been a “material change of circumstances which materially affects the child’s well-being.” Courts must always consider the best interest of the child – not the best interest of the parent. Consequently, your desire to become the PRP will not likely be sufficient cause to modify the existing designation.

The Standard for Modification in Tennessee

When considering a request to modify the designated PRP a Tennessee court will likely ask the following questions:

  1. Did the change occur after the entry of the order sought to be modified?
  2. Was the change known or reasonably anticipated when the order was entered?
  3. Is the change one that affects the child’s well-being in a meaningful way?

Requests for modification are considered on a case by case basis, meaning there is no magic formula that will result in the court granting a modification. Examples of situations where a court might be inclined to do so, however, include things such as:

  • A child’s performance in school is deteriorating significantly
  • A parent has allowed someone of questionable character into the home
  • The PRP has developed a drug/alcohol problem
  • The children are being subjected to domestic violence or corporal punishment

Whether the facts and circumstances of your case rise to the level necessary to successfully modify the PRP designation is something only an experienced family law attorney can tell you. Given the high standard you must meet to modify the PRP, however, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible if that is your ultimate goal.

Contact a Murfreesboro Parenting Modifications Lawyer

If you have additional questions or concerns about modifying your existing child custody order in Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with a Murfreesboro parenting modifications lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.

Stan Bennett