Knowledgeable Clarksville Child Custody Lawyers Ready To Fight For You
At Batson Nolan PLC, we understand the importance of protecting your child’s well-being, both today and in the future. In Tennessee, the courts evaluate custody arrangements by examining whether the arrangement proposed is in the best interests of the child or children. A dedicate Clarksville child custody lawyer of Batson Nolan PLC crafts our cases around this best interest analysis and statutory factors, all while we ensure that your families’ individual situation and your child’s individual needs are taken into account.
As your dedicated child custody law firm in Clarksville, we work toward helping you understand all the legal options as well as assisting you in creating a practical custody arrangement that reflects your family’s personal situation as well as your child’s best interest.
Tennessee courts recognize and encourage the involvement of both the mother and father in the child’s life. Courts are challenged with the task of maximizing each parents time with the child while taking into account the individual needs of the child, the schedules of the parents, the geographic location of the parents, and other factors which may come into play. Courts encourage shared parenting and task the parents with sharing and cooperating in important parenting decisions.
Courts understand the challenge of co-parenting after a custody hearing and encourage parties to reach agreements on child custody matters and communicate effectively after a divorce. Courts also understand the importance of parents encouraging a child’s relationship with the other parent.
Tennessee’s “Best Interests” Factors for Establishing Child Custody
In all cases, Tennessee law requires child custody decisions to be made based on the “best interests” of the children involved. Tennessee’s child custody statute outlines 10 factors that must be considered when evaluating what is in a child’s best interests.
However, not all of these factors will weigh equally, and some may be entirely irrelevant given the circumstances of a particular divorce. Furthermore, the law acknowledges that other factors may need to weigh into the best-interests analysis as well. As a result, when crafting a co-parenting arrangement or other parenting plans, it is vitally important to work with an experienced Clarksville child custody attorney who can help you develop a plan that satisfies Tennessee’s statutory requirements.
Tennessee’s enumerated “best interests” factors for establishing child custody in a divorce are:
- The emotional relationship between the child and each parent;
- Each parent’s respective ability and prior experience as a caregiver for the couple’s children;
- The stability of the child’s current home environment and the importance of maintaining continuity;
- The stability of each parent’s respective “family unit”;
- The parents’ respective physical and mental health conditions;
- The child’s current home environment, school, and integration with his or her community;
- The child’s “reasonable preference” if 12 years old or older, or if the child is younger than 12, upon request;
- Any evidence of physical or emotional abuse;
- The “character and behavior” of anyone who resides with or frequently visits either parent; and,
- The parents’ respective “past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities,” including their respective abilities to continue to foster a meaningful relationship between the child and each parent.
As you can see, Tennessee’s “best interests” factors are designed to paint a comprehensive picture of the child’s life post-divorce and ensure that the parents’ post-divorce parenting arrangement provides each child with as much stability, support, and guidance as possible. However, while this may seem fairly prescriptive, the reality is that divorcing parents who are able to work together have a significant amount of flexibility to arrive at a workable and mutually-agreeable plan. Despite not being specifically referenced in Tennessee’s statutory factors, the practicalities of the parents’ living arrangements, professional lives, and travel schedules are relevant as well. At the same time, working full-time does not necessarily mean that you are at a disadvantage when it comes to seeking custody. And, once again, identifying your personal options will require a thorough assessment of all of the relevant factors involved.
In cases of parental relocation, one parent is attempting to move outside the state or more than 50 miles from the other parent. The legislature of Tennessee has established a parental relocation statute to direct how to proceed when one parent is contemplating a relocation. The laws regarding parental relocation are very complex, strict and evolving.
Major language changes to the relocation statute (T.C.A. § 36-6-108) take effect July 1, 2018, so it is very important to hire a child custody law firm who is well-versed in the statutory changes and complex case law nuances of parental relocations. Parental relocation cases once turned on whether the parties were spending substantially equal time with the children, with varying burdens of proof depending on time spent with the children.
The new statutory language changes all of that. In cases of parental relocation, new custody arrangements must be reached and often times new child support arrangements must also be reached. At Batson Nolan PLC, every Clarksville child custody attorney is very familiar with parental relocation statute and case law and understand the importance of swift legal action in the event of proposed relocation.
In Tennessee, the first step to establishing custodial and visitation rights is the declaration of paternity of the father. Men who were married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth are generally presumed to be the biological father and generally do not have to undergo the paternity establishment process. If the father and the mother are not married, however, it is important for the father to establish paternity.
Unlike in the case of married parties, if parties are unmarried when a child is born, the Mother holds all the legal rights to the child until paternity is established by the court and a parenting plan is set in place. Tennessee courts have made great strides in allowing fathers greater rights and time with children, but unmarried fathers still face significant challenges in their efforts to gain parental rights and relationships with their children. Upon the establishment of paternity, fathers will be required to begin paying child support and providing for the child financially, yet will also gain the visitation or child custody rights.
Our experienced Clarksville child custody lawyers are committed to fighting for father’s rights as they endeavor to establish paternity and relationships with their children.
Parenting Plans in Tennessee
Tennessee has backed away from terms like “full custody” or “noncustodial parent” and has instead focused on parents developing a plan on how they will raise their children. Parents must complete a parenting plan as part of any divorce case involving child custody. This plan is a detailed, written outline that provides vital information about the custody arrangement including:
- Identifying the primary and alternate residential parent – The primary residential parent is the one in which the child spends more than half of their time. The alternate residential parent is the other parent who has some time with the child.
- Regular parenting time – The regular parenting time schedule includes the parents’ agreement regarding when each parent will have time with the children, such as the alternate residential parent spending every other weekend with the child or the parents splitting the week.
- Special parenting time – The parenting plan should also detail how parenting time will be split on holidays, summer vacations, school breaks, and other times that fall outside of regular parenting time.
- Final decision-making authority – The parenting plan should state which parent will have the final vote regarding important decisions for the child, such as decisions regarding the child’s education, medical care, religion, or extracurricular activities if the parents cannot agree on these subjects.
- Transportation – The parenting plan may describe how the child will get to visits with the alternate residential parent.
- Child support – The parenting plan may include worksheets and information regarding how much child support should be paid and under what terms. The amount of parenting time will affect how much child support must be paid so that the more days the alternate residential parent spends with the child, the less child support he or she will be responsible for paying. The amount of parenting time is treated as a variable based on a “day” with the child, which is defined as 12 or more consecutive hours with the child within a 24-hour timeframe.
- Other details – These plans are often drafted after mediation or the parties have had time to consider what is in their child’s best interests. The parents may agree to additional terms that they want to be part of the official court order regarding custody and raising their child.
The parents are encouraged to develop a parenting plan on their own or in the course of the mediation. Divorcing parents must attend a four-hour parenting class as part of their divorce. However, if they are unable to reach these decisions, the family law judge can name the primary residential parent, establish the parenting time, and set child support based on the state child support guidelines.
Custody Modification in Tennessee
After parents divorce or a child custody order is entered, one or both parents might want to change the custody arrangement. The parents are typically freely able to make changes that they both agree to and can ask the court to modify the previous order. If the parents do not agree on specific changes, the parent wanting the change has to show that there has been a “material change of circumstances” that materially affects the well-being of the child. The standard to change the parenting plan in smaller ways is lower than to change the person who should be the primary residential parent.
Common reasons for a modification are due to a parental move, parental misconduct, or a change in the child’s preference. Tennessee family courts will consider whether the child’s life has been disrupted and if a change is warranted when a parent petitions to modify the existing custody arrangement. Parents will be required to attend mediation before being able to get a family court judge to make a decision on custody.
Under Tennessee law, grandparents do have visitation rights, but those rights are not without limitation. Both the Federal and state Constitutions recognize that parents have a fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit. This fundamental right is exclusively for parents, not grandparents. This difference can often create issues, particularly when an in-tact family decides to limit or sever contact between a grandparent and a child.
The Tennessee statute outlining grandparent visitation rights only applies in certain situations, and the case law regarding such is evolving, so grandparent visitation is determined on a case by case basis. Until recently, the Tennessee’s grandparent visitation statute, T.C.A. § 36-6-306, was triggered only if a parent “opposed” visitation with the grandparent. The state legislature recently changed the language of the statute to include the phrase “or if the grandparent visitation has been severely reduced by the custodial parent or parents or custodian.” The statute does not apply to married parents whose fitness is not in question, and only applies in certain situations.
At Batson Nolan PLC, we are familiar with grandparents rights as set forth in statute and as outlined in case law, and our Clarksville child custody lawyers are prepared to advise you as to the best route given your particular situation.
Step Parent Visitation
The legislature recognizes the importance of stepparents in a child’s life and Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-303 permits a trial court to allow visitation with a stepparent in the event that the stepparent or spouse file for divorce or annulment. Two factors are taken into consideration when considering the question of stepparent visitation. The first factor considered with whether the visitation would be in the best interest of the child and the second states that the stepparent is entitled to visitation rights only if he or she is actually contributing toward the support of the child.
While the law recognizes that the continuation of a relationship with the stepparent might be in the best interest of the child, the legislative intent of the statute emphasizes that that the relationship should be important enough for the stepparent to file a petition with the court and that the stepparent should also be willing to contribute financially to the care of the child.
This second factor of financial support is likely in place to help the court determine which stepparents are truly interested in the child and not just retaliation against a former spouse. While this is a relatively new area of family law, at Batson Nolan PLC, we understand the importance of stepparents in a child’s life, and are prepared to represent you in your quest to maintain a relationship with your stepchild after a divorce.
Call Your Clarksville Child Custody Attorney Today
If you need legal for child custody, visitation, or modification, give us a call and let our experienced Clarksville child custody attorneys help you. Our compassionate legal team understand the importance of protecting your child and are here to act in the best interest of your child. Contact us online or give us a call today!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Will a Court Prefer to Award a Mother Custody over a Father?
Historically, in the majority of jurisdictions, the controlling precedent was that for young children (typically under the age of five years), in the event of divorce, the mother would be awarded custody automatically. This practice has largely been abandoned in most states, and in others, is used only sparingly as a sort of “tie-breaker” in scenarios where two equally fit parents seek custody of preschool-aged children. In fact, there are no states that currently mandate that a mother be afforded custody without the court first conducting a comprehensive analysis of the fitness of both parties. The majority of state legislatures instruct their courts to base custody-related decisions on what is in the child or children’s “best interest” – irrespective of the gender of each side. Fathers that are navigating the divorce process and contemplating whether or not to request physical custody of their child should not be discouraged from doing so solely on the basis of stereotypical gender roles. If both parents are employed full-time and all other factors are generally comparable, a father has just as good a chance of obtaining physical custody as the mother.
Does Race Ever Weigh into a Custody Determination?
No. The United States Supreme Court addressed this controversial matter in the landmark case Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984). In that case, a Caucasian couple got divorced and physical custody of the only child was awarded to the mother who subsequently chose to marry an African-American man and relocate to a historically African-American community. The ex-spouse requested that the court modify the initial custody arrangement on a strictly race-based motive. Although the lower Florida court approved the modification, the decision was ultimately reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. They held that social stigmas, particularly those associated to race, cannot serve as the basis in custody determinations.
What Does “Reasonable and Fair” Mean When It Comes to Visitation?
Generally, a court will award primary physical custody to one party and grant the other what is often labeled as “reasonable and fair” visitation privileges. The parent that wins custody is usually the one that has the power to determine what exactly is “reasonable and fair.” This, especially in the context of contentious divorces, subsequently leads to the unfortunate scenario in which the noncustodial parent is largely deprived of any real visitation time with their children. In order to circumvent such a situation, the majority of state courts now request that parents submit a comprehensive parenting plan that explicitly establishes a visitation timeline and clarifies which party has authority to make important long-term decisions that will significantly impact the child’s life.
Will the Party That Is Awarded Primary Custody Automatically Get Child Support?
The intention behind child support orders is to ensure that a child is brought up in a stable and financially secure household following a divorce. The monthly allotments are meant to pay for everyday living costs including groceries, clothes, medical expenses, transportation, and other typical financially demanding matters associated with raising a child. Notwithstanding, the court will always revert back to the “best interests of the child” when deciding on issues related to custody and child support. This means that every determination will differ, depending on the specific facts and circumstances of every separate case.
Can a Parent Holding Physical Custody Move out of State?
Oftentimes, a court will implement certain restrictions or limitations on travel on the parties to the divorce who are awarded custody of the children. In some instances, the final judgment order of the divorce process may prohibit the custodial parent from transporting the child out of a specified geographical range from the location they resided in when the divorce was finalized.