How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Tennessee

An overview of the effects of domestic violence on Tennessee child custody orders.

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School
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Domestic violence causes great harm, both physical and emotional. Children who witness or are subjected to violence in the home can suffer lifelong trauma. That's why Tennessee courts -- like the courts in other states -- consider domestic violence when deciding on custody and visitation issues.

While a single act of domestic violence will not automatically prevent a parent from visiting the child, a parent's history of abuse could affect the outcome of a custody proceeding. Limitations may be placed on an abusive parent's visitation with his or her child. In extreme cases of abuse or neglect, a court might even terminate parental rights.

This article provides an overview of the effects of domestic violence on child custody orders in Tennessee. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a Tennessee family law attorney for advice.

Basics of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence includes physical violence, sexual assault, and threats to harm or physically injure a member of the family or household.

Seeking Help from Abuse

Tennessee takes domestic violence seriously: There are 32 domestic violence programs across the state as of 2014. If you or your children are suffering domestic violence and fear ongoing abuse, seek help through the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. You can get 24-hour assistance by calling the Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-356-6767.

Seeking an Order of Protection

An order of protection prohibits an abuser from engaging in violence against you or your child for up to one year. If you have been a victim of recent domestic violence and fear ongoing abuse, you should obtain an order of protection.

Forms and additional information are available through the website for the Tennessee State Courts. Once you have filed the proper paperwork in your local courthouse, a judge will hold a hearing to evaluate past abuse and decide whether to grant your order of protection.

Child Custody Orders in Tennessee

The ultimate goal in any custody case is to find a custody arrangement that gives both parents the maximum involvement in their child's life while ensuring the safety and well-being of the child. The judge weighs several factors to determine how physical custody (where the child resides) and legal custody (decision-making authority on behalf of the child) should be arranged to serve the child's best interests. Tennessee law prevents a judge from placing a child in the custody of a parent who might harm that child. Learn more about Child Custody in Tennessee.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody in Tennessee

Tennessee law prevents any custody award that would endanger a child's safety or well-being. Nevertheless, a parent who committed domestic violence decades ago won't necessarily lose custody of his or her child. Instead, courts evaluate the severity and proximity of abuse.

In cases of frequent or recent abuse, an abusive parent may have restrictions placed on visitation, such as a supervised visitation requirement. Only in the severest cases of abuse or neglect would a parent lose his or her parental rights.

Supervised Visitation

If a supervised visitation restriction is included in the custody order, all visits between the abusive parent must take place with another designated adult present. A supervised visitation requirement may be temporary. Sometimes, this type of requirement is automatically lifted upon the completion of certain steps laid out in the custody order. In other cases, a supervised visitation requirement cannot be changed until the abusive parent proves to a judge that traditional, unsupervised visitation is in the best interests of the child.

Termination of Parental Rights

Unlike supervised visitation, once a parent's parental rights are terminated, there is no going back. A termination of parental rights is a permanent order, utilized in only the clearest and most severe cases of abuse. Some situations that might lead to a termination of a parent's parental rights include:

  • rape or sexual abuse of any child
  • severe child abuse resulting in bodily injury to the child, a sibling, or a half-sibling of the child
  • abuse or neglect resulting in more than two years' imprisonment for actions against the child, a sibling, or a half-sibling of the child
  • murder of the child's other parent, and
  • criminal conduct resulting in at least ten years' imprisonment, if the child is not yet eight when the sentence is entered by the court.

If you have additional questions about the effects of domestic violence on custody rights in Tennessee, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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