Tennessee Child Custody Statutes | Divorce & Family Law

Tennessee Child Custody Statutes.  Tennessee divorce & family law from MemphisDivorce.com and Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC.  Partially updated as of September 2012.

36-6-101 – Enforcement, Juvenile Court Jurisdiction, Presumption of Parental Fitness, Educational Seminars

(a) (1) In a suit for annulment, divorce or separate maintenance, where the custody of a minor child or minor children is a question, the court may, notwithstanding a decree for annulment, divorce or separate maintenance is denied, award the care, custody and control of such child or children to either of the parties to the suit or to both parties in the instance of joint custody or shared parenting, or to some suitable person, as the welfare and interest of the child or children may demand, and the court may decree that suitable support be made by the natural parents or those who stand in the place of the natural parents by adoption. Such decree shall remain within the control of the court and be subject to such changes or modification as the exigencies of the case may require.

(2) (A) (i) Except as provided in this subdivision (a)(2)(A), neither a preference nor a presumption for or against joint legal custody, joint physical custody or sole custody is established, but the court shall have the widest discretion to order a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child. Unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of a minor child where the parents have agreed to joint custody or so agree in open court at a hearing for the purpose of determining the custody of the minor child. For the purpose of assisting the court in making a determination whether an award of joint custody is appropriate, the court may direct that an investigation be conducted. The burden of proof necessary to modify an order of joint custody at a subsequent proceeding shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.

(ii) Unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, there is a presumption that custody shall not be awarded to a parent who has been convicted of a criminal offense under title 39, chapter 13, part 5, against a child less than eighteen (18) years of age.

(iii) The provisions of subdivision (a)(2)(A)(ii) shall apply only to persons who are convicted on or after July 1, 2006. Subdivision (a)(2)(A)(ii) and this subdivision (a)(2)(A)(iii) shall not be construed to prevent a parent from being granted visitation with the child; provided, however, that any visitation shall be supervised.

(iv) If it is determined by the court, based upon a prior order or reliable evidence, that a parent has willfully abandoned a child for a period of eighteen (18) months, as the term is used in § 36-6-406(a)(1), then, unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, the abandoning parent’s residential time, as provided in the permanent or temporary parenting plan or other court order, shall be limited. This subdivision (a)(2)(A)(iv) shall not be construed to prevent such a parent from being granted limited visitation with the child. Nothing in this subdivision (a)(2)(A)(iv) shall be construed to apply to children in the legal custody of the department of children’s services.

(B) If the issue before the court is a modification of the court’s prior decree pertaining to custody, the petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence a material change in circumstance. A material change of circumstance does not require a showing of a substantial risk of harm to the child. A material change of circumstance may include, but is not limited to, failures to adhere to the parenting plan or an order of custody and visitation or circumstances that make the parenting plan no longer in the best interest of the child.

(i) In each contested case, the court shall make such a finding as to the reason and the facts that constitute the basis for the custody determination.

(ii) Nothing contained within the provisions of this subdivision (a)(2) shall interfere with the requirement that parties to an action for legal separation, annulment, absolute divorce or separate maintenance incorporate a parenting plan into the final decree or decree modifying an existing custody order.

(iii) Nothing in this subsection (a) shall imply a mandatory modification to the child support order.

(C) If the issue before the court is a modification of the court’s prior decree pertaining to a residential parenting schedule, then the petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence a material change of circumstance affecting the child’s best interest. A material change of circumstance does not require a showing of a substantial risk of harm to the child. A material change of circumstance for purposes of modification of a residential parenting schedule may include, but is not limited to, significant changes in the needs of the child over time, which may include changes relating to age; significant changes in the parent’s living or working condition that significantly affect parenting; failure to adhere to the parenting plan; or other circumstances making a change in the residential parenting time in the best interest of the child.

(3) Except when the court finds it not to be in the best interests of the affected child, each order pertaining to the custody or possession of a child arising from an action for absolute divorce, divorce from bed and board or annulment shall grant to each parent the rights listed in subdivisions (a)(3)(A)(i)-(vi) during periods when the child is not in that parent’s possession or shall incorporate such rights by reference to a prior order. Other orders pertaining to custody or possession of a child may contain the rights listed in subdivisions (a)(3)(A)(i)-(vi).

(A) The referenced rights are as follows:

(i) The right to unimpeded telephone conversations with the child at least twice a week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations;

(ii) The right to send mail to the child that the other parent shall not open or censor;

(iii) The right to receive notice and relevant information as soon as practicable but within twenty-four (24) hours of any event of hospitalization, major illness or death of the child;

(iv) The right to receive directly from the child’s school records, names of teachers, class schedules, standardized test scores, and any other records customarily made available to parents, upon written request that includes a current mailing address and upon payment of reasonable costs of duplicating;

(v) Unless otherwise provided by law, the right to receive copies of the child’s medical, health or other treatment records directly from the physician or health care provider who provided such treatment or health care upon written request that contains a current mailing address and upon payment of reasonable costs of duplication; provided, that no person who receives the mailing address of a parent as a result of this requirement shall provide such address to the other parent or a third person;

(vi) The right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made about such parent or such parent’s family by the other parent to or in the presence of the child;

(vii) The right to be given at least forty-eight (48) hours notice, whenever possible, of all extra-curricular activities, and the opportunity to participate or observe, including, but not limited to, the following:

(a) School activities;

(b) Athletic activities;

(c) Church activities; and

(d) Other activities as to which parental participation or observation would be appropriate;

(viii) The right to receive from the other parent, in the event the other parent leaves the state with the minor child or children for more than two (2) days, an itinerary including telephone numbers for use in the event of an emergency; and

(ix) The right of access and participation in education, including the right of access to the minor child or children for lunch and other activities, on the same basis that is provided to all parents, provided the participation or access is reasonable and does not interfere with day-to-day operations or with the child’s educational performance.

(B) Any of the foregoing rights may be denied in whole or in part to one or both parents by the court upon a showing that such denial is in the best interests of the child. Nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit the court from ordering additional rights where the facts and circumstances so require.

(4) Notwithstanding any common law presumption to the contrary, a finding under § 36-6-106(8), that child abuse, as defined in § 39-15-401 or § 39-15-402, or child sexual abuse, as defined in § 37-1-602, has occurred within the family shall give rise to a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interests of the child to award sole custody, joint legal or joint physical custody to the perpetrator of such abuse.

(b) Notwithstanding any provision of this section to the contrary, the party, or parties, or other person awarded custody and control of such child or children shall be entitled to enforce the provisions of the court’s decree concerning the suitable support of such child or children in the appropriate court of any county in this state in which such child or children reside; provided, that such court shall have divorce jurisdiction, if service of process is effectuated upon the obligor within this state. Jurisdiction to modify or alter such decree shall remain in the exclusive control of the court that issued such decree.

(c) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to alter, modify or restrict the exclusive jurisdiction of the juvenile court pursuant to § 37-1-103.

(d) It is the legislative intent that the gender of the party seeking custody shall not give rise to a presumption of parental fitness or cause a presumption or constitute a factor in favor or against the award of custody to such party.

(e) (1) In an action for dissolution of marriage involving minor children, or in a post-judgment proceeding involving minor children, if the court finds, on a case by case basis, that it would be in the best interest of the minor children, the court may on its own motion, or on the motion of either party, order the parties, excluding the minor children, to attend an educational seminar concerning the effects of the dissolution of marriage on the children. The program may be divided into sessions, which in the aggregate shall not exceed four (4) hours in duration. The program shall be educational in nature and not designed for individual therapy.

(2) The fees or costs of the educational sessions under this section, which shall be reasonable, shall be borne by the parties and may be assessed by the court as it deems equitable. Fees may be waived upon motion for indigent persons.

(3) No court shall deny the granting of a divorce from the bonds of matrimony for failure of a party or both parties to attend the educational session. Refusal to attend the educational session may be punished by contempt and may be considered by the court as evidence of the parent’s lack of good faith in proceedings under part 4 of this chapter.

36-6-106. Child custody.

(a) 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. In taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child consistent with the factors set out in subdivisions (a)(1)-(10), the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability and all other relevant factors. The court shall consider all relevant factors, including the following, where applicable:

(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; provided, that, where there is a finding, under subdivision (a)(8), of child abuse, as defined in § 39-15-401 or § 39-15-402, or child sexual abuse, as defined in § 37-1-602, by one (1) parent, and that a nonperpetrating parent or caregiver has relocated in order to flee the perpetrating parent, that the relocation shall not weigh against an award of custody;

(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) (A) The reasonable preference of the child, if twelve (12) years of age or older;

(B) 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; provided, that, where there are allegations that one (1) parent has committed child abuse, as defined in § 39-15-401 or § 39-15-402, or child sexual abuse, as defined in § 37-1-602, against a family member, the court shall consider all evidence relevant to the physical and emotional safety of the child, and determine, by a clear preponderance of the evidence, whether such abuse has occurred. The court shall include in its decision a written finding of all evidence, and all findings of facts connected to the evidence. In addition, the court shall, where appropriate, refer any issues of abuse 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. In determining the willingness 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, the court shall consider the likelihood of each parent and caregiver to honor and facilitate court ordered parenting arrangements and rights, and the court shall further consider any history of either parent or any caregiver denying parenting time to either parent in violation of a court order.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of any law to the contrary, the court has jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination regarding a minor child or may modify a prior order of child custody upon finding that the custodial parent has been convicted of or found civilly liable for the intentional and wrongful death of the child’s other parent or legal guardian.

(c) As used in this section, “caregiver” has the meaning ascribed to that term in § 37-5-501.

(d) Nothing in subsections (a) and (c) shall be construed to affect or diminish the constitutional rights of parents that may arise during and are inherent in custody proceedings.

36-6-108. Parental relocation.

(a) If a parent who is spending intervals of time with a child desires to relocate outside the state or more than one hundred (100) miles from the other parent within the state, the relocating parent shall send a notice to the other parent at the other parent’s last known address by registered or certified mail. Unless excused by the court for exigent circumstances, the notice shall be mailed not later than sixty (60) days prior to the move. The notice shall contain the following:

(1) Statement of intent to move;

(2) Location of proposed new residence;

(3) Reasons for proposed relocation; and

(4) Statement that the other parent may file a petition in opposition to the move within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice.

(b) Unless the parents can agree on a new visitation schedule, the relocating parent shall file a petition seeking to alter visitation. The court shall consider all relevant factors, including those factors enumerated within subsection (d). The court shall also consider the availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child’s relationship with and access to the other parent. The court shall assess the costs of transporting the child for visitation and determine whether a deviation from the child support guidelines should be considered in light of all factors including, but not limited to, additional costs incurred for transporting the child for visitation.

(c) If the parents are actually spending substantially equal intervals of time with the child and the relocating parent seeks to move with the child, the other parent may, within thirty (30) days of receipt of notice, file a petition in opposition to removal of the child. No presumption in favor of or against the request to relocate with the child shall arise. The court shall determine whether or not to permit relocation of the child based upon the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including the following where applicable:

(1) The extent to which visitation rights have been allowed and exercised;

(2) Whether the primary residential parent, once out of the jurisdiction, is likely to comply with any new visitation arrangement;

(3) The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents and child;

(4) The disposition of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver;

(5) The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment;

(6) The stability of the family unit of the parents;

(7) The mental and physical health of the parents;

(8) The home, school and community record of the child;

(9) (A) The reasonable preference of the child if twelve (12) years of age or older;

(B) The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preferences of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children;

(10) Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person; and

(11) The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person’s interactions with the child.

(d) (1) If the parents are not actually spending substantially equal intervals of time with the child and the parent spending the greater amount of time with the child proposes to relocate with the child, the other parent may, within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice, file a petition in opposition to removal of the child. The other parent may not attempt to relocate with the child unless expressly authorized to do so by the court pursuant to a change of custody or primary custodial responsibility. The parent spending the greater amount of time with the child shall be permitted to relocate with the child unless the court finds:

(A) The relocation does not have a reasonable purpose;

(B) The relocation would pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child that outweighs the threat of harm to the child of a change of custody; or

(C) The parent’s motive for relocating with the child is vindictive in that it is intended to defeat or deter visitation rights of the non-custodial parent or the parent spending less time with the child.

(2) Specific and serious harm to the child includes, but is not limited to, the following:

(A) If a parent wishes to take a child with a serious medical problem to an area where no adequate treatment is readily available;

(B) If a parent wishes to take a child with specific educational requirements to an area with no acceptable education facilities;

(C) If a parent wishes to relocate and take up residence with a person with a history of child or domestic abuse or who is currently abusing alcohol or other drugs;

(D) If the child relies on the parent not relocating who provides emotional support, nurturing and development such that removal would result in severe emotional detriment to the child;

(E) If the custodial parent is emotionally disturbed or dependent such that the custodial parent is not capable of adequately parenting the child in the absence of support systems currently in place in this state, and such support system is not available at the proposed relocation site; or

(F) If the proposed relocation is to a foreign country whose public policy does not normally enforce the visitation rights of non-custodial parents, that does not have an adequately functioning legal system or that otherwise presents a substantial risk of specific and serious harm to the child.

(e) If the court finds one (1) or more of the grounds designated in subsection (d), the court shall determine whether or not to permit relocation of the child based on the best interest of the child. If the court finds it is not in the best interests of the child to relocate as defined herein, but the parent with whom the child resides the majority of the time elects to relocate, the court shall make a custody determination and shall consider all relevant factors including the following where applicable:

(1) The extent to which visitation rights have been allowed and exercised;

(2) Whether the primary residential parent, once out of the jurisdiction, is likely to comply with any new visitation arrangement;

(3) The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents and child;

(4) The disposition of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver;

(5) The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment;

(6) The stability of the family unit of the parents;

(7) The mental and physical health of the parents;

(8) The home, school and community record of the child;

(9) (A) The reasonable preference of the child if twelve (12) years of age or older;

(B) The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preferences of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children;

(10) Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person; and

(11) The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person’s interactions with the child.

(f) The court shall consider the availability of alternative arrangements to foster and continue the child’s relationship with and access to the other parent. The court shall assess the costs of transporting the child for visitation, and determine whether a deviation from the child support guidelines should be considered in light of all factors including, but not limited to, additional costs incurred for transporting the child for visitation.

(g) Nothing in this section shall prohibit either parent from petitioning the court at any time to address issues, such as, but not limited to, visitation, other than a change of custody related to the move. In the event no petition in opposition to a proposed relocation is filed within thirty (30) days of receipt of the notice, the parent proposing to relocate with the child shall be permitted to do so.

(h) It is the legislative intent that the gender of the parent who seeks to relocate for the reason of career, educational, professional, or job opportunity, or otherwise, shall not be a factor in favor or against the relocation of such parent with the child.

(i) Either parent in a parental relocation matter may recover reasonable attorney fees and other litigation expenses from the other parent in the discretion of the court.

36-6-110. Rights of non-custodial parents.

Except when the juvenile court or other appropriate court finds it not in the best interests of the affected child, upon petition by a noncustodial, biological parent whose parental rights have not been terminated, the court shall grant the rights set forth in § 36-6-101(a)(3)(A).

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