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What Is a Material Change of Circumstances?

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material change of circumstances is a bit of legalese that you hear often in regards to child custody. What it is, exactly, is less clear to those of us who aren’t legal professionals.


In Tennessee, your parenting time is set out in a permanent parenting plan. The parenting plan allocates a certain number of days per year to each parent, designates the primary residential parent, and sets out other terms. If you want to change an existing parenting plan, you have to prove that a “substantial material change of circumstances” has occurred since the entry of the last custody order or entry of the last parenting plan. You must also prove that the change of circumstances significantly affects the well-being of the child.

This is laid out in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-101(a)(1)(C), which doesn’t provide a clear standard for determining when a material change of circumstances has occurred. It does, however, provide examples of what may meet the standard. Some examples include the age of the child, significant changes to a parent’s work that impacts the child or failing to abide by the current parenting plan. However, it’s important to note the (vague) last line of the statute. This covers “other circumstances making a change in the residential parenting time in the best interest of the child.”


Even if you can prove that a material change of circumstances has occurred, you must prove that, due to this material change, modifying the parenting time is in the best interest of the child. Courts have to look at Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106, which lays out some, but not all, relevant factors to determine the best interest. Things like the stability of the family unit, the mental and physical health of the parents, and willingness to encourage a continuing relationship between the child and both of the parents may be relevant. Keep in mind that courts make these determinations on a case-by-case basis, so one person’s outcome doesn’t predict another’s. If you can prove these factors, the courts may modify your parenting plan, giving you more time with your child.