If you share one or more minor children with a spouse and decide to file for divorce, negotiating child custody is a central aspect of the legal process. Depending on how amicable or conflictual the relationship between both parities is, creating a mutually beneficial parenting plan can be a challenge.
Tennessee law focuses on a child’s best interests to approve or determine the conditions of a child custody court order. Understanding what this approach involves can help you and your spouse work together towards an agreement. And if the negotiations are fruitless, you can discuss what your options are and what your expectations can be with your divorce attorney.
Even in the most peaceful dissolution of marriage, working with a reputable family law attorney can make a positive difference. They can help ensure that your individual and parental rights are protected and that the ruling supports your child’s well-being.
Types of Child Custody
Child custody comes in two different types: legal and physical custody. Legal custody consists of decision-making authority for important aspects of the child’s life such as health, education, extra-curricular activities, and religion. Physical custody is about where the child lives and with which parent.
Either type of child custody can be sole or joint. Sole custody means that only one parent has the authority to make important decisions for legal custody and that the child resides with one parent only for physical custody.
In Tennessee, family courts usually aim for joint custody of both types to allow both parents to be involved in the child’s life and make sure they maintain a regular relationship with them. Joint custody does not necessarily mean that the child spends equal time with each parent. The parent the child lives with is usually considered the “primary residential parent,” while the other parent has visitation rights according to a schedule approved by the judge.
The state’s law forbids that child custody favors one gender over the other. However, if you are concerned that the judge overseeing your case may show bias, you should speak with your lawyer to discuss ways to remedy the situation to protect your rights and your child’s well-being.
What Does a “Child’s Best Interest” Mean?
Tennessee Code § 36-6-106 (2019) explains how a judge should focus on a child’s best interest when issuing rulings pertaining to child custody and child support. This concept involves evaluating different factors to ensure that any court order supports the child’s physical and emotional well-being. A judge uses this method whether they are reviewing a proposed parenting plan and custody arrangements submitted by the parents or need to determine how to grant physical and legal custody if the parents are unable to reach an agreement outside of court.
Determining a child’s best interests involves assessing factors such as:
- The child’s emotional and developmental needs
- Each parent’s living accommodations including proximity of school and extra-curricular opportunities
- The quality of the child’s relationship with each parent
- The distance between both parents’ residences
- The child’s involvement in the local community, including relatives and friends
- Medical resources if the child requires frequent treatment for a health condition
- The parents’ ability and willingness to collaborate for their child’s well-being
If the child is 12 years of age or older, the judge may ask for their custody preferences although this is typically not a final deciding element.
If there is evidence of a history of domestic abuse by one parent, a judge can choose to limit contact between said parent and the child. This may involve granting sole physical and/or legal custody to the other parent or granting supervised visitation to the parent with a history of abuse.
Unmarried Parents and Child Custody
If unmarried parents need to negotiate child custody, they must establish parentage before being able to move forward with their case, unless they had signed a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity at the time the child was born. The simplest option is for the parents to sign this form.
In case one party contests the paternity claim, court hearings must take place and a judge can request a DNA test. If the results confirm the paternity, parentage is established, and child custody negotiations may occur. If DNA testing disprove that the claim, a judge usually dismisses the case.
Conner & Roberts, PLLC Can Help You Negotiate Child Custody Arrangements in Chattanooga
Child custody matters are sensitive and requires personal solutions that fit your specific needs and goals. At Conner & Robert, PLLC, our team has a successful track record of supporting families navigating such challenging times. We combine honest and open communication with up-to-date knowledge of Tennessee laws governing family cases.
Our team remains available to assist you after the judge finalizes the child custody court order if you ever decide to petition for a modification. Court order modifications may happen due to a parent relocating or other life changes.
Call Conner & Roberts, PLLC today at (423) 299-4489 or fill out our online form to schedule a child custody consultation with one of our family law attorneys in Chattanooga!