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Whether you are in the middle of a divorce in which you have minor children or in the midst of establishing parentage of a minor child born out of wedlock, you will need to determine which parent has custody of the minor children and to enter into a parenting schedule. Whenever parties disagree on who should be the primary residential parent (PRP), the judge must decide for them. In doing so, the judge applies Tennessee’s child custody factors to the evidence and makes a final determination.
When a court makes a custody determination, the court considers all factors relevant to the case before it, accounts for each child’s best interests, and arrives at a custody determination that allows both parents maximum participation in their children’s lives. In considering the relevant factors, the court will consider the custody factors required by Tennessee law which are codified at T.C.A. § 36-6-106. The custody factors are briefly described here:
The primary residential parent should be the one who the court believes will foster and encourage a meaningful relationship between the child and the other parent. Which means the judge, in choosing the PRP, will likely select the party who is most likely to meet the other parent more than half-way.
After an initial custody determination, the Court will enter a parenting schedule. If your custody determination is during a divorce proceeding, the court will enter a permanent parenting plan. A “permanent parenting plan” is a detailed written outline of how divorcing parents will care for their children. Parenting plans contain an allocation of parenting responsibilities, the establishment of a residential schedule, and an allocation of child support.
A residential schedule outlines when the children are in each parent’s physical care and designates the primary residential parent. The residential schedule also covers details such as where the children will reside on given days of the year, including provisions for holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations, and other special occasions. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan, you must first go to mediation and try to agree on a parenting plan before the court will try your case.
Although parenting plans are not required in a parentage action in Tennessee, the Court’s initial custody order will also make an initial parenting schedule, establish child support, and allocate parenting responsibilities. Some Court’s may also require that parents attend mediation and attempt to reach a resolution of these issues.