What Does the Court Use to Evaluate Child Custody in Tennessee?

When children are part of a divorce, the issue of child custody must be resolved. Unfortunately, custody disputes often become extremely adversarial. When the parents are unable to resolve a custody dispute, the court must do so. With that in mind, a Murfreesboro child custody lawyer at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby discusses what a court typically uses to evaluate child custody in Tennessee.

Child Custody Dispute Basics

When a Tennessee divorce involves minor children, part of the divorce process involves making decisions about the “custody” of the children. Tennessee law no longer uses the archaic term “custody.” Instead, Tennessee uses “Primary Residential Parent” (PRP) and “Alternative Residential Parent” (ARP) to refer to the roles of both parents post-divorce. The PRP is the parent with whom the children live most of the time while the ARP typically has scheduled parenting time with the children. Custody disputes most often occur when the parents cannot agree on who will be the PRP and/or who will have decision-making authority over the children after the divorce. 

How Does a Court Evaluate Custody?

If it becomes clear that the parties cannot resolve a custody dispute, the court must step in and resolve disputed issues. Initially, the court may order the parties to participate in mediation which involves a specially trained neutral mediator who will try and help both sides reach a mutually acceptable agreement. If mediation is unsuccessful, the judge must decide how best to resolve the disputed issues. 

All decisions made by the court must be made using the “best interest of the child” standard. This means that a judge is not concerned with what is best for either parent, only what is best for the child(ren). To decide what is best for the child(ren), the court may order an independent child custody evaluation by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. The evaluator is required to focus on decision-making, parenting time, and elements of the permanent parenting plan. To do this, the evaluator will usually conduct interviews with the parents, the children, and sometimes teachers or other professionals who interact with the family. The evaluation may also include a review of relevant school, medical, and criminal records and could include psychological testing. Although the report submitted by the child custody evaluator is not the only evidence a judge may use when determining custody, courts tend to give these reports significant weight.

What Can the Court Consider When Making Custody Decisions?

Child custody decisions are governed by Tennessee Code Section 36-6-106 which lists all the factors a judge is allowed to consider when making a custody decision. That statute lists 10 factors that may be used when evaluating custody; however, there is no “magic formula” for determining the weight a judge will place on each individual factor. Using the “best interest of the child” standard, a judge will typically place importance on the relationship between a parent and the child(ren) as well as the relationship between the parents. Evidence of abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional) or of a parent’s refusal to communicate/cooperate with the other parent tends to balance the scales against a parent when a judge is deciding custody issues while positive involvement with the children, positive attempts to communicate/cooperate with the other parent, and a child’s preference for living with a parent are viewed favorably by the court. 

By their very nature, custody disputes are highly emotionally charged. Trying to navigate the legal aspect of a custody dispute adds additional stress to an already stressful situation which is why you should have an experienced child custody lawyer on your side anytime a divorce is likely to involve a custody dispute.

Contact a Murfreesboro Child Custody Lawyer

If you have additional questions about a child custody evaluation in a Tennessee divorce, consult with an experienced Murfreesboro child custody lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the team at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Dinah Michael