Parenting Plans in Tennessee
Parenting Plans in Tennessee
Divorcing parents should remember that there are more than two people affected by their decision to end the marriage. Children’s needs are sometimes deferred because parents can get caught up in their own anger, frustration or worry. In worst case scenarios, children may be used by divorcing parents as a negotiating tool, ultimately hurting the children and damaging their relationship with their parents. Tennessee’s Parenting Plan Statute applies to all divorcing parents with children under the age of eighteen. The law was designed to help parents maintain a positive, communicative relationship after divorce in order to provide for the best interests of their children. The statute requires all divorcing parents to create a parenting plan that details the responsibilities and protects the rights of each parent and their children, provides for a way of settling disagreements between the parents when they arise and keeps in mind the emotional and physical well-being of the children.
A good parenting plan should be very detailed and keep the children in mind at all times. The needs of individual children can differ, depending on age, personality and abilities. The parenting plan should take individual needs into consideration. The plan should recognize that needs will change over time, as the children grow, and should take anticipated changes into consideration as well to limit the need for modification.
The law was created with the hope that parents could make this plan by themselves, with no court interference. If parents can’t come to an agreement on their own, parents are required to mediate disputes and make a good faith effort at reaching an agreement. If the parents still cannot agree on a plan, they must each file a proposed plan and the court will decide on a permanent parenting plan for the parents, taking their plans into consideration.
A parent’s proposed plan is written out on a standardized court form and must be submitted at least 45 days before the divorce trial.
Shared responsibility and a “residential schedule”
Children need to have quality time with both parents, unless there is some other consideration, such as violence or abuse. For this reason, the Parenting Plan Statute eliminates the idea of “sole custody” and “visitations.” There can be one “primary residential parent,” but both parents are responsible for their children and are entitled to “parenting time.” One part of this responsibility, and one of the main requirements of the law, is setting up a “residential schedule” for the children.
When creating this part of the plan, parents must detail which parent the children will be with every day of the year. This means deciding where the children will be during the school week, on weekends, school vacations and holidays. It is very detailed, and even includes transportation arrangements. It also looks to the future, so disputes can be avoided and the plan limits the need for modification. So, for example, parents are asked to indicate in which years (odd or even) each parent will get the children for each holiday. In applicable cases, parents will also need to include where supervision of parenting time will take place and with whom and which parent will cover the cost of the supervision. While it’s easy to get stuck in the details, parents should remember that the children are at the center of the plan and he or she needs to have enough time with each parent to provide for emotional development.
If parents cannot agree on a parenting schedule, the court may intervene. The court will take into consideration a number of factors, including each parent’s current relationship with the children, the ability of each parent to provide for the economic and emotional needs of the children, the parent’s own schedule and questions of continuity and stability. The court may also consider the children’s own preferences, but only if he or she is at least 12 years old. In addition to the very comprehensive list of considerations, the court may consider any other factors it deems appropriate in determining the residential schedule.
Detailing financial information and Tennessee child support
The financial obligations and rights of each parent is an important part of the plan. The law requires parents to exchange documentation of their annual incomes, health, dental and life insurance information. The plan also requires detailed information on child support, including the amount and how and when support is to be paid to the other parent. Often there is a question of which parent is entitled to the tax exemption for their children. The plan also requires this information to be detailed in order to resolve as many issues and avoid going to court. Child support worksheets are required to be attached.
Who gets to decide? Authority is determined
The plan must establish the authority and responsibilities of each parent over the children. When the children are with a parent, that parent makes day-to-day decisions. For younger children, this means breakfast, bathing, homework, activities and bedtime. For older children this may include computer usage, cell phone time, dating and curfews.
The plan also needs to consider the larger, long-term issues involved in child raising and should give clear decision-making authority to either one or both parents on matters of the children’s education, health, extracurricular activities and religious upbringing. Keeping in mind the goal of looking towards the future, parents can also include an agreement related to the child’s growth in these or other areas. The parents may also agree that regardless of how decision-making is divided up, either parent is allowed to make emergency decisions regarding the children’s health or safety.
Rights of the parents in many situations
The law helps to ensure that both parents remain active, involved and committed to their children, regardless of the division of authority. For this reason, the law guarantees that both parents are kept informed about their child’s education and activities, and are made aware of health issues affecting their children. For example, both parents must be updated about what’s going on with their children at school (report cards, attendance, special activities and events) and in extra-curricular activities after school. Also, both parents are notified when there are medical issues involving the children.
Parents are also protected from unfair or inappropriate behavior by the other parent. A parent has the right, for example, to speak to his children by phone at least twice a week, for a reasonable period of time and send mail to his children without the other parent reading the letters. This helps to guarantee that the relationship between the parent and the child remains viable and healthy. The law goes so far as to provide that no parent may speak negatively about the other parent (or his or her family) to the children. These rights, while protecting the parent, help maintain a good relationship between the parents so they can do what is best for their children.
The plan also notes when a parent’s rights are limited. In some cases, supervised visitation may be required. Parents in this category must list this information in the parenting plan and attach any court orders regarding the children.
Resolving disputes or making changes usually requires mediation
Disagreements are foreseeable. Sometimes it may be necessary to make parenting changes. The children’s schedules evolve over time. Before going to court, parents are required to “make a good-faith effort” and turn to an alternative dispute resolution process, usually mediation or arbitration. These are preferred alternatives to court because they allow each parent to be heard and help the parents hand-craft a solution that satisfies everyone. During the dispute, preference is generally given to the terms of the original parenting plan, but modifications can always be made by agreement. If the parents are able to agree, it must be written up and given to each parent and then submitted to the court for approval and entry as a court order.
The law is aimed at keeping the courts out of the process and enabling parents to resolve their differences on their own. The court will usually intervene only if there is a serious question regarding the children’s well-being. Attending alternate dispute resolution (usually mediation) proceedings is required, so the court can impose financial sanctions on a parent who intentionally fails to appear and participate in good faith.
Parental relocation law in Tennessee
The law regarding a parent’s desire to relocate is addressed in the standardized parenting plan forms. Tennessee’s Parent relocation law requires a parent who spends time with the child and who wishes to move either out-of-state or more than 100 miles away to notify the other parent. It also gives the other parent the right to oppose the move. This helps protect the non-primary residential parent from being denied access to his or her child. There are specific time limitations for modification of the intent to move and for filing an objection. For more, see Tennessee Parent Relocation Statute Law | Modifying the Parenting Plan and Tennessee Long-Distance Parenting Plans: A Roadmap for Relocation.
Parenting classes are required!
The law requires all parents to attend a parenting class. Courts have different rules about when a parent must attend the class – prior to or after the parenting plan is approved. Some judges may require both parents to complete the parenting class before submitting the parenting plan for approval, which is required for a divorce to be granted. Parenting class attendance demonstrates a seriousness and commitment on the part of the parents to learn how to co-parent after divorce.
The parenting classes focus on showing parents the possible effects of divorce on the children, various parental arrangements, techniques for communication and encouraging parents to focus on the children and not on themselves. Classes are about four hours long and are taught by certified professionals. Once the course is completed, a certificate is issued to the parent and must be filed as part of the court action. For a list, see Memphis, Tennessee Parenting Education Seminars & Classes Directory.
Divorce is often unpleasant and brings out the worst in both sides. Those who suffer the most are the children. The Parenting Plan Statute was enacted in 2001 with the aim of helping parents see beyond their individual emotions and do what’s best for their children.
Family lawyers in Tennessee agree that the requirements of a permanent parenting plan help in most divorce cases. Experience has taught family lawyers and judges that the more details parents agree upon, the less likely the parents are to return to court. Returning to court costs both parents legal fees and emotional stress. Avoiding these costs always benefits children of divorced parents.
The very act of formulating the plan also benefits everyone involved. It helps parents learn how to work together once they are divorced and what they can expect from each other. While it can’t resolve all problems in custody cases, the Parenting Plan law goes a long way to improving the relationship of the divorcing parents and thereby helping their child. In the end, it’s a win-win situation.
For more, see: Tennessee Child Custody Laws in Divorce and for links to forms: Tennessee Parenting Plan, Primary Residential Parent & Divorce Law. Also, for a more detailed discussion of parenting issues, child support, and 8 examples of parenting plans from real Tennessee cases, purchase the Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family, by Miles Mason, Sr. available on Amazon.