In Tennessee, the Court has many statutory factors it must consider when initially determining custody or a change of custody from one parent to another. The Court must weigh each of these factors together and make a determination as to who is the more fit parent for the child:
1. The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents or caregivers and the child;
2. The disposition of the parents or caregivers to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent or caregiver has been the primary caregiver;
3. The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment;
4. The stability of the family unit of the parents or caregivers;
5. The mental and physical health of the parents or caregivers;
6. The home, school and community record of the child;
7. The reasonable preference of the child, if twelve (12) years of age or older. The court may hear the preference of a younger child on request. The preferences of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children;
8. Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent, or to any other person (could result in referral to the juvenile court for further proceedings);
9. The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent or caregiver and the person’s interactions with the child; and
10. Each parent’s or caregiver’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each of the parents and caregivers to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both of the child’s parents, consistent with the best interest of the child.Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106(a).
Before considering filing for a change of custody, sit down and go through this list: If you were a neutral third party comparing each parent to the other, who has the advantage on each factor? When all factors are considered, which parent seems to have the edge? That is the analysis the Court will employ in determining which parent will be the primary residential parent.
Remember that the facts of every custody case are different, so your case may hinge upon one or two of these factors or five or six, it just depends. In many cases, the Court bases its ruling on the last factor: each parent’s willingness and ability to foster and encourage a strong parent-child relationship with the other parent. Such a ruling is especially true when the Court believes that neither parent has a clear advantage under the other nine factors. Above all, keep in mind that no matter how simple or complicated your custody case is, as a parent you must continue to promote the best interests of your child.
By John W. Crow