How Is Custody of Children Decided in a Tennessee Divorce?

Going through a divorce is rarely simple nor easy. While some divorcing couples do manage to remain civil, other divorcing couples wind up in a contentious and protracted court battle. Sadly, when minor children are involved, it increases the likelihood of a divorce turning adversarial if the parents cannot agree on details related to the children. If both parents want custody of the children, for example, the divorce process usually becomes more emotionally and financially challenging. Before you embark on a potentially contentious divorce, a Murfreesboro divorce attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby offers some important information about howMurfreesboro child custody attorney custody is decided in a Tennessee divorce.

Understanding the Law in Tennessee

Although we still refer to a parent having “custody” of a child, the law in the State of Tennessee no longer recognizes the term “custody.” Instead, the parent with whom a child lives most of the time is referred to as the “Primary Residential Parent (PRP)” while the other parent is referred to as the “Alternative Residential Parent (ARP).” Likewise, “visitation” is now called “parenting time.” Another important aspect of child “custody” in a divorce is decision-making authority which refers to a parent’s ability to make major decisions relating to the child such as the right to decide where the child attends school, what religion (if any) the child is taught, and the right to make major medical decisions for the child. Typically, the parents share major decision-making authority or the PRP has sole decision-making authority. Note that a parent has the right to make simple day-to-day decisions for the child while the child is in the parent’s care unless a court has specifically taken away that right.

Can Parents Agree on Custody?

Ideally, all issues in a divorce, including those related to the minor children, are discussed, and resolved between the parties without the need to litigate them in court. When that is the case, the parties (parents) can submit an agreed upon Parenting Plan to the court for approval. Unfortunately, reaching a mutually agreeable plan for the children post-divorce is not always easy, forcing the court to get involved. If it is clear that the parties cannot reach an agreement on their own, a Tennessee court is required to order the parties to attend mediation to try to reach an agreement on custody and parenting arrangements. If mediation is not successful, the court will be forced to resolve all disputed issues, including “custody” of the children.

Factors Considered When Deciding Who Will Be the Primary Residential Parent

When deciding which parents should be the PRP, the law in Tennessee allows courts to consider various factors to determine what is in the best interests of the child(ren). Some of these factors include:

  • The child’s emotional ties with each parent.
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs, including physical, emotional, and educational needs.
  • The stability and suitability of each parent’s home environment.
  • The child’s relationship with siblings and other significant family members.
  • Any history of abuse, neglect, or domestic violence.
  • The child’s preference if they are old enough to express it in a mature and reasonable manner. In Tennessee, there is a presumption under the law that a child who is 12 years old or older is mature enough to express his/her wishes. If the child is younger than 12, the court has discretion to allow the child to testify or not.
  • Each parent’s willingness to encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent.

If the court is left to determine the terms of your Parenting Plan, including who will be the PRP and ARP, the court may order a home study and/or appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to represent the best interests of the child(ren) during the proceedings. 

Can I Modify Custody in Tennessee?

If you already went through a divorce and you are not happy with the custody arrangements, you may have options. Custody arrangements are not set in stone and can be modified if circumstances change significantly. Talk to an experienced Tennessee divorce attorney about your legal options; however, be sure to continue to abide by the current court orders in the meantime to prevent being accused of contempt of court.

Contact a Murfreesboro Divorce Attorney 

If you have additional questions about custody of children in Tennessee, 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