Tennessee courts may award child custody to one parent (sole custody) or both parents (joint custody). If one parent is awarded sole physical custody, the other will usually have significant visitation time (sometimes also called parenting time).
Before making an order, the court encourages parents to work together to create a parenting plan that best serves their child's interests. Parents will often make a calendar showing when the child will be with each parent during the week, on weekends, holidays, and during school breaks. The plan should also specify how the parents will make decisions about the child's school, healthcare, and extracurricular activities.
Then, the judge will review the plan to ensure that the child's needs will be met, the child will have contact with both parents, and the child will not be exposed to conflict between the parents. A parenting plan must also specify how the parents will resolve a dispute, whether through mediation, arbitration, or another way. If the court agrees that the parenting plan is in the best interests of the child, the judge will adopt the plan as an order.
For more in-depth information, see Tennessee Child Custody and Parenting Plans.
Parents who cannot agree on a parenting plan may ask the judge to make decisions about when the child will be with each parent. The judge will look at several factors to determine what schedule is in the best interests of the child. The factors include each parent's ability to prepare their child for adulthood, the child's relationship with each parent, the likelihood that parents will provide the child with food, shelter, and other necessities, and the child's emotional and developmental needs.
The court may also consider which parent has been the primary caregiver, the parents' respective work schedules, and the child's involvement in school and other activities. If the child is older than 12, the judge may also consider where the child wants to live.
Finally, the judge will look at whether both parents have acted in good faith during the court proceedings. The court's goal is to make an order that does not disrupt the child's life and also allows for the child to maintain a relationship with both parents. Once the order is made by the court, it is binding on both parents and cannot be modified unless there is a very good reason.
To learn more about how the judge approaches these decisions, see "Who Decides on Child Custody and Visitation: You or the Judge?"