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  • Carol Sandstrom

Tennessee’s Best Interest of The Child Standard - Understanding the Basics

Divorce Law in Tennessee includes “Parenting Plans,” which allocate final decision-making authority between parents for their children moving forward during and after the process of the parents’ divorce proceedings. This parenting plan covers decisions for minor children including education, healthcare, choice of religious upbringing, and even extracurricular activities. A parenting plan can apply that authority equally between the parents or weighted toward one parent or the other depending upon certain conditions.

In determining that status of authority in Tennessee, if parents cannot mutually agree upon terms of decision-making for their children, the Best Interest of the Child Standard is applied by a judge or mediator. It is important that each party to the divorce be advised by a qualified and experienced attorney, in order to best be represented in these proceedings.

What Is the “Best Interest of the Child” Standard

Tennessee courts use the "best interest of the child" standard to make child custody decisions. Specifically, judges refer to Tennessee Code Section 36-6-106 which states:

“In a suit for annulment, divorce, separate maintenance, or in any other proceeding requiring the court to make a custody determination regarding a minor child, the determination shall be made on the basis of the best interest of the child.”

Factors Considered

Within the Best Interest of the Child Statute, the following factors are used by the judge when determining custody arrangements of minor children

  • the child's relationship with each parent, including whether one parent has been handling most of the day-to-day parenting responsibilities

  • each parent's ability to handle parenting responsibilities in the future, including whether each parent is likely to encourage a continuing relationship with the other parent

  • whether either parent has refused to attend court-ordered parent education programs

  • each parent's willingness and ability to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care

  • each parent's experience as a primary caregiver

  • the love, affection, and emotional ties between each parent and the child

  • the emotional needs and developmental level of the child

  • the moral, physical, mental and emotional fitness of each parent as it relates to their ability to parent the child

  • the child's relationship with siblings, other family members, and mentors, as well as the child's involvement with the child's school and community

  • the importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment

  • evidence of abuse to the child, to the other parent, or to any other person

  • the character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents a parent's home and that person's interactions with the child

  • the child's wishes, if the judge finds that the child is old enough to express a meaningful preference

  • each parent's employment schedule.

In addition to the guidelines listed above, the court may consider any other factors relevant to the particular child’s (or children’s) circumstances and situation.

Then Why Use An Attorney?

Since the Tennessee Best Interest of the Child Standard is clearly outlined, you may wonder why an attorney is even necessary for your divorce proceedings. Simply put, these outlined factors are subjective!

Any particular judge may weigh one or more of these factors more heavily than another. He or she may also view certain aspects of a parent-child relationship more heavily than another. For example, the father may work more hours outside of the home, and also be the parent who consistently transports the child to and from extracurricular sports activities. One judge may view the hours away from home as weighing against the father as primary custodial parent, while another judge may more heavily weigh the father’s role in the extracurricular activities as support for a ruing as primary custodial parent.

Securing an experienced attorney to represent you in divorce proceedings can ensure you are fairly represented in all aspects and considerations.

Court For Child Custody Should Be Your Last Option

Going to court to “fight” for child custody should be your last option. Other options, like negotiation and mediation, should be actively pursued by both parents so a child does not have to endure leaving their fate in the Court’s hands.

But again, representation by a qualified, experienced attorney, will be vital for negotiation and mediation as well, to help you fully understand your rights - and obligations - regarding the custody of your child.

At the Law Office of Jennifer L. Fiola, our attorneys have the negotiation skills and litigation experience to fight to protect the things that matter to you. We also remain mindful of the emotional issues that come with working through difficult family law matters. Every family and every divorce is different, we are here to listen and carefully structure the best possible outcome for your family.

Contact us today for a free consultation.

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