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Why Would a Parent Lose Custody of a Child?

On Behalf of | Dec 24, 2019 | Divorce

Child custody is at the top of everyone’s mind when parents are getting divorced or were never married in the first place. Who gets the child, and for how long, is a subject very near and dear to the hearts of most parents. A parenting plan – whether designed by the agreement of the parents or by the court – will provide some certainty for both child and parents alike. And although the law surrounding custody seems to be ever-evolving, the reasons that a parent might actually lose custody of their child stay pretty much the same.

What Does It Mean to “Lose Custody”?

For the purposes of this discussion, losing custody means everything from losing out on joint custody, getting significantly less time with the child, or losing custody of the child altogether.

Best Interests of the Child

One key concept to keep in mind throughout this discussion is the phrase “best interests of the child.” This is important to keep in mind because it is the ultimate factor that a judge needs to consider in determining child custody arrangements. As you may know, the judge is not really concerned with what is best for either parent – it is the child that counts the most. So while the judge will consider many other factors that relate to child custody, best interests trump them all.

If we begin from this basic premise, then the rest isn’t too difficult to understand. How do you lose custody of your child? By acting in ways that undermine their best interests, their safety, or their healthy growth. Some of these actions may rise to the level of losing custody completely – or close to it. So let’s examine some of the most common ways that a parent can lose out on time with their child.

What Can Cause Me to Lose Custody of My Child?

Really, any conduct on the part of either parent that detrimentally affects the child can be taken into consideration by a judge who is considering how to order custody of a minor child. The most obvious reasons are the first listed below – child abuse and substannce abuse. After that, we’ll look at some less obvious examples of conduct that can negatively affect the results of your custody case.


If a parent is physically or emotionally abusive to their child, almost every judge will take the child away from that parent. This is a basic concept founded upon common sense and taken very seriously in Tennessee. Abuse in its many forms (physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual) is simply not tolerated by law and is cause for removal of a child from their abusive parent.

But be careful. What you consider to be punishment may be considered abuse in a court of law. Corporal punishment is a grey area where there is room for interpretation. This type of punishment may have been around for centuries, but it is far too easy to step over that thin line from proper admonishment into abuse. So if this is your preferred method of discipline and you are involved in a custody situation, you may want to find another form of punishment for your child. An ex can tell a story in court that makes a proper spanking sound like abuse, and since there is rarely any video of such episodes, it may become your word against your ex spouse’s word. In court, that is a dicey situation. So best to steer as far away from it as possible.

And if you believe that your co-parent is abusing your child in any way, it may be time to think about gathering evidence. This is because you want to try to avoid a “he said / she said” scenario when you get to court. So think about any witnesses to the abuse over the years, and ask them to testify for you. Witnesses can help tremendously in adding to your credibility on issues such as this, so go and find them if they exist.

If you can’t think of any witnesses to the abuse, then think about how to capture instances of abuse on audio or video. If the abuse is verbal, you may only need an audio recording to support your allegations. If the abuse is physical, there are ways to gather evidence, including hiring a private investigator – but these are important decisions that need to be discussed with your attorney first. Your attorney can ensure that you are abiding by the law in your efforts to document episodes of abuse.

Substance Abuse

Abusing any addictive substance does not go over very well in family court. It really doesn’t matter what you are abusing – anything from cigarettes to heroin can land you in the category of “unsafe” parent. When a parent abuses substances while they have their child, they are putting that child in danger – even if they are in their own home. This is not tolerated by most courts and can result in loss of time with your child.


Whereas abuse is a proactive thing that requires action, negligence is a form of inaction that is incredibly harmful to children. Children need their basic necessities tended to – like food, clothing, and shelter. If a parent neglects to provide any of these things, they can be seen as negligent, and their chances of retaining custody diminishes as the seriousness of their neglect increases.

Disobeying Court Orders

If the court has ordered anything at all, each parent must fully comply. If a parent fails to comply, they risk not only being found in contempt of court and possibly facing jail, but they will also lose big in their custody case. This applies to everything from the drop off and pick up times ordered by the court as the case is pending, to the right of first refusal.

History of Bad Behavior, Lack of Emotional Control

If a parent has a history of acting impulsively, erratically, or with anger that borders on uncontrollable, they may see their custody time decreased or eliminated. For instance, if dad routinely becomes enraged at T-ball games, loses his temper with teachers or school personnel, or screams at his wife so that neighbors can hear, all of this can be brought to the court’s attention and used as grounds to limit dad’s contact with his child.

Being Unsupportive of Other Parent

If one parent interacts in a particularly negative way with their co-parent, this is a mark against them. This can include anything from simply being difficult to deal with, to actively trying to poison the child’s mind against the other parent. Threatening the co-parent and initiating and/or escalating conflict with the co-parent are all things that will not impress a judge in a good way. And with modern technology, the proof can be everywhere – from text messages that show profanity and harassment, to emails or facebook posts that show extreme contempt and disregard for the co-parent.

Questions about Child Custody in Tennessee?

All of the above and more can negatively impact the custody that a judge will award a parent in a custody case. We here at Batson Nolan PLC know how to help you navigate the child custody landscape so that you get the very best results possible in your case. To speak with an experienced attorney at our offices in Clarksville or Springfield in confidence, please call us or inquire online today.