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Understanding Key Tennessee Child Custody Terms

Explaining the Terms You Need to Know

When preparing to go through a child custody case in Tennessee, one might hear a number of terms they might not be entirely familiar with. Rest assured that the concepts behind the terms are similar, but it’s important to know the terminology used in Tennessee as well as the subtle definitions between these terms before working through your custody case.

Names for Parents

When determining which parent a child ultimately lives with, you may have heard terms such as “custodial parent” and “non-custodial parent” to refer to which parent has or does not have the child in their physical care, respectively. In Tennessee, these terms are replaced with “primary residential parent” and “alternative residential parent” to mean similar ideas (these are sometimes referred to as PRP and ARP).

However, the definition of each of these parents does not include what many know as “legal custody” or the ability to make decisions for a child; these definitions deal with the parent a child lives with.

Custody Agreement

The more colloquial term for the final document that outlines each parent’s rights to the child as well as the schedule for when each parent has the child in their care is a child custody agreement. Tennessee law uses the term “parenting plan” to mean something similar to a child custody agreement; however, it is not exactly the same.

A parenting plan includes several components, namely a residential schedule outlining the days, times, and holidays that each parent will have a child in their residential care. This parenting plan will also include notes on which parent has responsibility to make decisions regarding the child’s medical care or educational wellbeing.

Unsure of Tennessee Child Custody Laws?

Knowing what terms are used when in child custody cases is only a small portion of Tennessee child custody laws. If you are unsure of an issue related to child custody, it’s important to get your questions answered by an attorney who understands Tennessee’s laws as they relate to this delicate issue. At Dowden, Worley, Jewell & Olswing, PLLC, our team of Tennessee family law attorneys can help you navigate your child custody matters to find a solution that serves the best interests of both you and your child.


To learn more about our services or to speak with an attorney, call us at (901) 295-4635 or visit us online.

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