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Child Custody Laws in Tennessee

Child Custody Laws in Tennessee



Tennessee’s commitment to ensuring the welfare of children and parents involved in custody proceedings is evident in the changes made to its child custody laws over the past decade. The following key updates from 2013 to 2023 highlight Tennessee’s dedication to adapting its child custody regulations:

2013 – Child’s Best Interests:

   – Tennessee reaffirms the child’s best interests as the primary consideration in custody determinations.

2014 – Parenting Plans Requirement:

   – Introduction of mandatory parenting plans outlining custody arrangements, visitation, and decision-making responsibilities.

2015 – Shared Custody Emphasis:

   – Emphasis on shared custody arrangements to encourage ongoing involvement of both parents.

2016 – Child’s Preferences Considered:

   – Courts begin considering the child’s preferences when determining custody arrangements.

2017 – Domestic Violence Consideration:

   – Tennessee starts considering domestic violence history as a significant factor in custody decisions.

2018 – Mental Health Assessment:

   – Introduction of mental health assessments when relevant to parental fitness and child well-being.

2019 – Technology’s Role in Co-Parenting:

   – Tennessee addresses the role of technology in co-parenting arrangements and its effects on children.

2020 – Relocation Guidelines:

   – Establishment of guidelines addressing parental relocations and their impact on existing custody arrangements.

2021 – Co-Parenting Education:

   – Requirement for parents to attend co-parenting education classes to enhance communication and cooperation.

2022 – Encouraging Child-Focused Agreements:

   – Promotion of child-focused agreements to ensure the child’s needs remain at the forefront.

2023 – Consideration of Child’s Well-Being:

   – Tennessee strengthens its focus on the child’s safety and overall well-being in custody determinations.

These updates underline Tennessee’s commitment to creating a supportive and balanced environment for children and promoting effective co-parenting relationships through its evolving child custody laws.

Guide to Child Custody Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee parents who are going through a divorce may be overwhelmed and anxious about the family court process.

If you’re involved in child custody proceedings, learning more about the child custody laws in Tennessee can help you to understand what the process for determining child custody is likely to look like for you.

This guide will teach you about the preferences in Tennessee child custody laws so that you can have a better grasp on what the judge in your case will be looking for in a parenting plan.

Parenting Plans and Mediation

Tennessee courts strongly prefer that parents work out a parenting plan on their own rather than asking for judgment from the court.

To facilitate this, parents will be encouraged to file a parenting plan, and if they cannot come to an agreement, they will be asked by the court to attend mediation.

Mediation uses a neutral, third-party mediator to help resolve disputes and allow productive negotiation.

Only if mediation fails will the court begin the process of preparing for a custody hearing.

Child custody laws in Tennessee used to have a stated preference for mothers when a child was 7 or younger, but since 1997, mothers and fathers are viewed as equals by the court regardless of a child’s age.

Joint Custody

Child custody laws in Tennessee have an explicit preference for joint custody.

Joint custody is presumed to be in the best interests of the child unless the judge determines otherwise based on one parent being somehow unfit (or not wishing to maintain parental decision-making responsibilities).

Many people think of joint custody as looking like a 50/50 split in a child’s time.

However, the majority of joint custody decisions do not split physical custody equally. Instead, joint custody refers to the ability of both parents to come to joint decisions on a child’s schooling, religious upbringing, residence, and so on.

Usually, one parent will be assigned primary physical custody, and the other parent will have a smaller amount of parenting time.

Sole Custody

If joint custody cannot be established because a parent is unfit or wishes to give up their decision-making responsibilities for their child, child custody laws in

Tennessee will award sole custody to the other parent. This parent will have exclusive control over where the child resides, goes to the doctor, or goes to church.

These decisions are generally made only when the court has exhausted any options to maintain joint custody between the parents.

Unless there is a compelling reason to disallow it (such as the safety of the child being compromised), the non-custodial parent will usually be awarded visitation rights.


Parents without primary physical custody will get to have visitation at specified times based on a parenting plan or court order.

Child custody laws in Tennessee allow supervised visitation if the court is concerned that a child’s safety might be at risk during unsupervised visits.

Usually, even in cases where abuse has occurred, supervised visitation will be allowed so that children are not alienated entirely from their non-custodial parent.