Tennessee Child Custody Guidelines

Tennessee Child Custody Guidelines

Child Custody

Parenting a child with both the mother and father living together under the same roof can be complicated enough, but when the parents live separately it involves several additional issues and decisions.  A determination must be made as to which parent your child will be with and when, which parent has the authority to make educational, medical and other major decisions for the child, and how the child will be financially supported are all part of the legal process of the arrangement for the custody of a child in Tennessee. Sometimes a child custody determination is made by agreement between the parties other times it is adjudicated by the court

In Tennessee, custody is granted in ways that are no different from those of many other states.  Physical custody has to do with the day-to-day care of the child while legal custody has to do with the decision making for the child. Sole or joint types can be applied to either of these two types of custody.

Tennessee family courts most often prefer that co-parents reach an agreement outside of the courtroom to determine their own custody arrangement. You and your co-parent must create and agree on a parenting plan, which you will then submit to the court for approval. In some cases, if no agreement can be reached the court will require that the co-parents hold discussions about custody with mediators present.

Shared Parenting in Tennessee – A Preferred Standard

Tennessee law regarding child custody and the courts have fostered and enforced a standard of shared parenting or joint custody.  Although there may be issues with one parent or the other, the standard is to allow both parents the opportunity to be involved in parenting decisions and to exercise parenting time with the child.  The parties develop a Permanent Parenting Plan which specifies the parenting responsibilities of both parents, including joint decision making in health care, education, religious or spiritual matters and other major decisions that must be made for the child.  The parent with whom the child will reside the majority of the time during the year is named as the “Primary Residential Parent”.  The other parent is the “alternate residential parent”.

In most cases, even if you are not the primary custodial co-parent for your child, Tennessee child custody laws ensure that you will have certain rights to your child. These rights include regular telephone conversations, the right to send mail to the child without being tampered with by the other co-parent, the right to the child’s records and documents, and more. By law, the custodial co-parent cannot interfere with these rights.

Primarily, the court determines child custody in Tennessee based on the best interests of the child.  The court will consider the following factors:

  • The love and affection and overall relationship between the child and the child’s parents or caregivers
  • The mental and physical health of the parents or caregivers
  • The child’s preference, if the child is of a sufficient age and maturity level to make a reasonable choice (generally age 12 or the older)
  • The parent or caregiver’s ability to provide food, clothing, a proper education, and medical care for the child
  • The child’s home, school, and community record
  • Any history of physical or emotional abuse
  • Each parent’s willingness to foster and encourage a relationship between the child and the child’s other parent
  • Whether a custodial parent has been found guilty of the intentional death of the child’s other parent or legal guardian

Tennessee child custody laws and courts always uphold what they see as the best interest of the child over the preferences or desires of the co-parents. Most of the factors that Tennessee child custody laws consider when determining the best interest of the child are pretty straight forward and involve the relationship with each co-parent and the child. One factor that may differ is that the Tennessee child custody laws put a definite age of 12 years old on whether or not they will consider the reasonable preference of the child. In some cases, Tennessee family courts will hear the preferences of younger children, though they hold much less weight than those of older children.

Child Custody Determinations

The focus in Tennessee in determining child custody is based upon agreed child custody or parenting plan arrangements.   Parents are required to attend mediation in order to attempt to reach agreement on a temporary parenting plan.  Unresolved conflicts will be heard and decided by the court.   In cases involving unmarried parents, the requirement to initially attend mediation is not always enforced, with the juvenile court often times entering basic child custody orders. Tennessee juvenile courts are overwhelmed with caseloads involving dependency and neglect.

Relocation and Child Custody in Tennessee

If a parent intends to relocate out of the state or 100 miles from his/her current home, the relocating parent must serve a notice to the child’s other parent 60 days prior to the move. The notice should include:

  • A statement of the intent to move
  • The address of new location
  • Reasons for the relocation
  • A statement that the child’s other parent may oppose the move within 30 days

The court will consider several factors when determining whether to allow the move, including:

  • The importance of continuity in the child’s life, considering the stability of the child’s current home, school, and community
  • Whether the custodial parent will comply with a new custody and visitation schedule
  • The child’s preference, if the child is of an age and maturity level to make an informed decision (generally age 12 or older)

Custody Modification

child custody determination, once made by the court, is very difficult to change or modify.  The emphasis on shared parenting does not mean that the custody arrangements are readily changeable.  The courts in recent years have relaxed some of the more stringent barricades to child custody modifications, but a permanent parenting plan or other child custody order is intended to be permanent

Military Service Members

If a service member who is also a custodial parent is called to active duty in Tennessee, the court will temporarily modify the child custody order. However, upon completion of duty, custody will revert back to the original order.


District Office- Middle Tennessee – Nashville
1000 2nd Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37203-2900
Phone: (615) 532-4000

State Office – Citizens Plaza Building
400 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1403
Phone: (615) 313-4700

Note:  The foregoing information is provided as general child support law guidelines in the state of Tennessee and should not be considered as legal advice specific to your case.  After reviewing the above material, you will be presented with the opportunity to submit more details specific to your case directly to About The Children.

Submitted by Linda O’Marie, Paralegal


Call (800) 787-4981

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Posted in Tennessee Guidelines

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