The state of Tennessee strongly encourages cooperation between parents when working toward an amicable child custody arrangement. Courts prefer parents to resolve domestic issues like custody plans between the parties. Judicial interference is a last resort. But if despite their best efforts, parents cannot agree, then the courts will step in and make the decisions for them—whether the parents like the result or not.
But how does a judge make these tough decisions? If parents cannot agree, how can a judge know what is best for a family? The truth is, the judge may not know what is best. That is why they prefer for the couple to decide for themselves. But when a judge must decide, there are statutory factors they must consider.
The Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-106 spells out the factors a judge must take into consideration when determining how to award custody. If you use an attorney to help work out an agreement, they use these same factors to guide your agreement. This ensures that the judge accepts the plan and signs off on it.
This statute states one overriding principle of custody: the best interests of the child take precedence above any other factor. Courts give weight to a parent’s desire to have a significant presence in their child’s life. But parental needs are always second to the child or children’s best interest. Beyond that, the courts consider the following factors.
Nature of the Parent/Child Relationship
The court looks at the relationship between each parent and the child. In other words, if in the past one parent spent much more time with the child and performed the majority of the parenting duties, a judge is likely to favor awarding that parent more custody time. A judge also considers the loving bonds and emotional ties that the child has with each parent. It is only natural for a judge to want a child to spend more time with a loving, nurturing parent than one who is cold and distant. And beyond being a natural inclination, these factors are codified in Tennessee law.
The court is interested in how each party handles parenting responsibilities. A judge looks carefully at each parent’s past history of taking such responsibilities seriously. A judge examines:
- Which parent was the primary caregiver in the past;
- Which parent is more likely to encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child;
- The likelihood of either parent obeying court orders regarding shared custody;
- The likelihood of each parent attending court-ordered parenting classes and the like; and
- Whether either parent has a history of attempting to keep the child away from the other party, either in violation of a court order or simply out of animus.
This factor is among the first listed by the statute because it is of paramount importance and typically one of the first factors a judge contemplates.
Parent’s Ability to Provide for Child
Financial stability and the ability to provide for the child are also of paramount concern. All children need food, clothing, educational opportunities, medical care, and more. If a parent is unemployed or shows no interest in providing for the child’s physical needs, they may not get equal custody. Lack of employment does not necessarily disqualify an otherwise sincerely loving parent from getting custody of their child. And of course, child support helps to bridge any income gaps between parents. But each must exhibit the desire and ability to provide for the child’s physical needs.
The court also looks at each parent’s job. If one parent is very overworked and spends more time at work than at home, the conclusion is often clear. A judge prefers the child to spend most of their time with a parent who is there for them, especially in their early years.
Furthermore, the court considers who is better suited to provide for the child’s emotional well-being and developmental requirements. This is especially true if the child has special needs. The parent who exhibits a willingness to obtain special counseling, therapies, or independent educational plans for special needs children is often favored in custody decisions. Please keep in mind that none of these factors is definitive by itself, but they all contribute to the court’s final ruling.
If a parent has mental, physical, or substance abuse issues, the court considers these. If either parent has a history of abusing or neglecting the child, this is, of course, given significant weight.
Child’s Social Health
The court considers a child’s social development as well. A judge wants to know if other people are in the life of either parent that regularly interacts with the child at that parent’s residence. Are there other siblings, step-siblings, or friends that the child is more likely to see at one parent’s home than the others? Does a parent have a live-in partner who may pose a danger or threat to the child’s well-being? Which home offers the child the most continuity and stability? The overall environment weighs into the court’s ultimate decision.
If the child is over the age of 12, they may tell the judge where they would most like to live. The judge is not obligated to follow the child’s desire, but they may allow the child to testify as to their preference.
An Experienced Attorney Can Help
Child custody issues are never easy, especially when a divorcing couple cannot get along well enough to negotiate an amicable solution. But who cares for your child or children is one of the most important decisions separating parents can make. The seasoned divorce legal team at Batson Nolan PLC provide critical insight into what child custody arrangements a judge is likely to accept. After spelling out your options, your lawyer can help you decide exactly what you want and help you to get it. We can negotiate with your spouse’s lawyer or arrange mediation if necessary. Call us today or contact us online to set up a free consultation in our Clarksville or Springfield office.