Even when divorce is necessary, divorce means change. But, one of the scariest changes for parents is how much time they can spend with their children. This makes many divorcing parents wonder: How do Tennessee family law judges determine child custody?
Like most states, Tennessee child custody laws are based on the best interest of the child standard. This means that family law courts order custody arrangements that allow both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child, consistent with the child’s needs and preferences.
State courts have an explicit preference for joint custody, which means that both parents share legal and physical custody of the child. Joint custody is presumed to be in the best interest of the child unless the Tennessee family law judge determines otherwise based on one parent being unfit or unwilling to co-parent.
However, joint custody is not always feasible or desirable for every family. In some cases, one parent may have sole custody of the child, which means that he or she has exclusive legal and physical custody of the child.
The other parent may have visitation rights or parenting time with the child according to a schedule set by the court. Sole custody may be awarded if there is evidence of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness or other factors that endanger the child’s welfare or impair the parent’s ability to care for the child.
When making custody decisions, family law courts consider a variety of factors that relate to the child’s best interest. These factors include the strength, nature and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent. In addition, the judge looks at each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities.
Judges also look at the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver of the child, and the emotional ties existing between the child and each parent. The developmental level of the parents and child are also factored, along with each parent’s parental fitness to parent (moral character, mental health, physical ability, etc.).
The child’s own wishes are also factored, if he or she is 12 years old or older, along with any other relevant factors that affect the child’s well-being.