How Does a Judge Decide the “Best Interest of the Child” in a Custody Dispute?

When a divorce involves children, it is almost always more complicated. Sometimes, it even becomes exceptionally adversarial if custody of the children is disputed. While the court will encourage both parties to try and reach a mutually acceptable custody agreement outside of the courtroom, when that is not possible the court must determine the post-divorce custodial arrangement. When considering the issue of child custody, a judge must always use the “best interest of the child” standard, but what exactly does that mean? A Murfreesboro child custody lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains what a judge may consider when making custody decision using the best interest of the child standard.

Factors Considered When Deciding the Best Interest of the Child

Despite gently (and not so gently at times) encouraging divorcing parents to work together on custodial issues, and despite mandatory attempts to use mediation to resolve custody disputes, judges are often faced with deciding who will be a child’s Primary Residential Parent (PRP) and who will be the Alternative Residential Parent (ARP). Although Tennessee Code § 36-6-106 allows a judge to consider “all relevant factors,” the statute also specifically lists the following factors to be considered when deciding what is in the best interest of the child:

  • The strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, including whether one parent has performed most parenting responsibilities relating to the daily needs of the child.
  • Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both parents, consistent with the best interest of the child. The court shall consider the likelihood of each parent to honor and facilitate court ordered parenting arrangements and rights, and the court shall further consider any history of either parent denying parenting time to the other parent in violation of a court order.
  • Refusal to attend a court ordered parent education seminar may be considered as a lack of good faith effort.
  • The disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care.
  • The degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver, defined as the parent who has taken the greater responsibility for performing parental responsibilities.
  • The love, affection, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child.
  • The emotional needs and developmental level of the child.
  • The moral, physical, mental and emotional fitness of each parent as it relates to their ability to parent the child. This may include a mental health examination. 
  • The child’s interaction and interrelationships with siblings, other relatives and step-relatives, and mentors, as well as the child’s involvement with the child’s physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities.
  • The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment.
  • Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person. 
  • The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person’s interactions with the child.
  • The reasonable preference of a child aged 12 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.
  • Each parent’s employment schedule. The court may make accommodations consistent with those schedules.

Which factors carry more weight and/or how much weight to give to a specific factor is within a judge’s discretion; however, knowing what factors are explicitly mentioned in the relevant statute provides a good idea of what a judge will consider when deciding custody issues. 

Contact a Murfreesboro Child Custody Lawyer

If you have questions or concerns about a child custody dispute in Tennessee, contact a Murfreesboro child custody lawyer to discuss your options. Contact the team at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Stan Bennett