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Memphis, TN 38117
(901) 754-5150


While the term “custody” remains in general usage, parenting decisions in Tennessee generally establish one parent as the “Primary Residential Parent” (“PRP”) and the other as the “Alternate Residential Parent” (“ARP”). The PRP is generally the parent with whom the child resides more than fifty percent (50%) of the time.

Who will get custody of our children?

You and your spouse can decide which of you will have custody of your child.  If you are unable to resolve this question, then a court will resolve the issue of custody for you based on the best interest of the child. Judges consider a variety of factors in determining which parent is entitled to custody.  These factors include:

(1) The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents or caregivers and the child;
(2) The disposition of the parents to provide for the child and the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver;
(3) The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment;
(4) The stability of the family unit of the parents;
(5) The mental and physical health of the parents;
(6) The home, school and community record of the child;
(7) The reasonable preference of the child if 12 years of age or older (although the Court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request);
(8) Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person
(9) The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person’s interactions with the child;
(10) Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child.

For the details of these provisions, refer to Tenn. Code Ann. section 36-6-106.

When can child custody be filed for or decided?

The timeline for bringing claims or motions for child custody and visitation is long, stretching throughout a child’s minority. A child custody action can be brought either independently or it can be joined with an action for absolute divorce.

Even though the Tennessee courts maintain jurisdiction over minor children at all times for purposes of custody and support, you and your spouse may nevertheless contract with respect to custody, pending approval of the agreement by the Court. This possibility often allows for an amicable resolution of difficulties between separating parties and assists the child in adapting to his or her new way of life by sparing the child and the parties the trauma of litigation. A properly drafted Permanent Parenting Plan would also provide you and your spouse with the flexibility to effect your own modifications of the custody portions (or any other portions) of the agreement through further written amendment, again pending approval of the agreement by the Court.

Generally, the Court’s determination of proper custody, or approval of the parties’ parenting agreement, will be based on the child’s best interests.

Why should I have a written agreement about custody?

Tennessee requires that divorcing parents enter into a Permanent Parenting Plan, and a specific form is required.  The terms of the Plan can be reached by agreement of the parties, subject to Court approval, or the Court will determine the terms of the Plan if the parties proceed to litigation. Review the Tennessee State Courts Permanent Parenting Plan Information.

Of the many issues in domestic law, child custody is perhaps the most emotionally charged. For this reason, it can also become the most expensive sort of litigation that might result from your separation. In most cases, however, couples are able to compromise on custody without forcing this issue into court. In fact, in most divorces child custody never becomes a real issue. One parent (still often the mother) has been the primary caregiver throughout the child’s life; and the parties agree that this caregiver should continue to have the child most of the time.

In Tennessee, court approval is required for any parenting agreement.  Until you both settle, or until a court issues a ruling on custody, each parent generally has co-equal rights to the physical possession of a child of the marriage.

Do children get to decide where to live?

In Tennessee, the reasonable preference of a child 12 years of age or older in a custody case may be considered by the Court in making a custody determination, but the child’s wishes are not controlling.  The Court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request.  The preferences of older children shold normally be given greater weight than those of younger children.

Tenn. Code Ann. section 36-6-106.

What impact could my dating have on child custody?

Romantic involvement before or during divorce proceedings can have a profound impact. Should you date someone other than your spouse or become otherwise romantically involved prior to the divorce being final? The answer is almost always a resounding no. Until the final decree of divorce is signed by the judge, parties are still married in the eyes of the law and technically are not free to date. Matters can be further complicated if there are minor children of the marriage. In making decisions on custody and parenting time, courts can view a spouse who is still married but “dating” as not making good decisions, not considering the best interest of the children and not being a good role model for the children. Your spouse’s discovery of your interest in another woman or man (as the case may be) could unravel a settlement as to custody. The court can find that your dating – even unaccompanied by sexual intercourse — has led to distraction or a great preoccupation with your love life, and consequent neglect or inattention to your children, and your position in a custody dispute could be greatly weakened.

How is Child Support Determined?

Please visit the Department of Human Services for more information.

Can visitation be refused if child support is not paid?

Although many clients think they can tie child support payments to visitation privileges, it is important that you understand that the one is legally independent of the other in terms of either unilaterally withholding support or suspending visitation. Thus, for example, if one party has not received the appropriate child support payment, he or she may not independently decide to bar the other from exercising any visitation rights. There is no supportable legal foundation for such a move. In addition, such retaliation can potentially impair your child’s welfare.

With equal parenting time, who pays child support?

One parent will probably have to pay child support to the other.  In Tennessee, a child support worksheet is required to be completed and presented to the Court along with each Permanent Parenting Plan.  Basically, each parent is responsible for a pro-rata portion of a pre-determined amount of support for the child, and there will always be a payment except in the unusual circumstance.  Factors to be used in determining child support include – but may not be limited to – each parent’s income, the number of days per year the child spends with each parent, the cost of health insurance and work-related child care, and the number of other children for whom either parent may be responsible and in what amount.  In addition, a deviation from the calculated amount may be ordered or agreed upon, depending upon the specific facts of the case.

Name Contact Phone Number Website
The Exchange Club of Memphis Kitty Frazer (901) 276- 2200 link
Southwest Tennessee Community College
Continuing Education
Patricia Burnette (901) 333-4207 link
Southwest Tennessee Community College
Continuing Education
Gail Call (901) 333-4208 link
Jewish Family Services Sylvia Landau (901) 767-8511
Children of Divorce Education Program Paula M. Honeycutt (901) 755-7747
Agape Child and Family Services, Inc. Louvadie S. King (901) 323-3600 link
Christian Psychological Center, Inc. Dr. Douglas Hart (901) 458-6291 link
Family Services of the Mid-South David Frankle (901) 324-3637 link
Doyle Family Counseling Matt Doyle (901) 309-0719
Turning Point Counseling Bobby Scott (662) 893-6556
University of Tennessee
Agricultural Extension Center
Cathy Faust (901) 752-1207

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Contact the Law Office of Karen B. Hall