In all cases, custody is based on the best interest of the child. Parents can agree to custody and parenting time, and if they cannot do so, the court will decide this matter for them. The terms “sole custody”, “visitation”, and “custodial parent” are no longer used in Tennessee. Commonly used terms are currently:
Primary Residential Parent: The parent with whom the child resides with more than 50% of the time.
Alternative Residential Parent: Simply, the parent who has less parenting time.
Physical Custody: This refers to the child’s living arrangements.
Legal Custody: This refers to decisions about the child’s health, education, and welfare.
Parenting time: This is the number of days a parent has physical custody of the child.
Custody agreements are referred to as Permanent Parenting Plans. Parents are encouraged to work together to co-parent, and decide on a parenting plan. This is a detailed outline of how a child will be cared for. It will contain a parenting time schedule, parenting responsibilities, residential schedule, and child support obligations. The residential schedule will designate a primary residential parent. It will outline when the child is in the physical care of each parent, including during holidays, school breaks and vacations, and special days. These rules are usually the same for unmarried parents as well. Tennessee law states that the parenting plan must do the following:
- Be flexible to allow for the changing needs of the child, so that further need to modify the parenting plan can be avoided.
- List the responsibility and authority of each parent.
- Keep children away from conflict between parents.
- Have a plan for disputes that would avoid returning to court, and use these options when a dispute arises.
- Mutually declare that parents can make decisions for every day basic needs for the child, while in their care.
- The parent that must pay child support needs to prove their income to the other parent and appropriate agencies on an annual basis.
- Any parent without a valid driver’s license must be able to provide transportation for child.
- Provide a parenting time schedule that suits the child’s age and needs.
The Alternative Residential Parent has rights allowed to them, no matter the amount of parenting time. These include twice weekly phone calls with their child, the right to communicate with their child through mail, the right to have notice of major illnesses, hospitalization, or death of a child, rights to the child’s school records and contact information for the school, the right to not have the child alienated against them, and the right to an itinerary if the other parent takes the child out of state for more than forty-eight hours. These same rights apply to the Primary Residential parent while the child is with the Alternative Residential Parent.