Updated: 2021-09-23 by
Tennessee courts use the "best interest of the child" standard to make child custody decisions. Specifically, judges refer to Tennessee Code Section 36-6-106 which says in part:
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.
How Courts Make Child Custody Decisions in Tennessee
Tennessee law directs the court to consider the following list of factors when deciding what is in the best interest of a child:
- the child's relationship with each parent, including whether one parent has been handling most of the day-to-day parenting responsibilities
- each parent's ability to handle parenting responsibilities in the future, including whether each parent is likely to encourage a continuing relationship with the other parent
- whether either parent has refused to attend court-ordered parent education programs
- each parent's willingness and ability to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care
- each parent's experience as a primary caregiver
- the love, affection, and emotional ties between each parent and the child
- the emotional needs and developmental level of the child
- the moral, physical, mental and emotional fitness of each parent as it relates to their ability to parent the child
- the child's relationship with siblings, other family members, and mentors, as well as the child's involvement with the child's school and community
- the importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment
- evidence of abuse to the child, to the other parent, or to any other person
- the character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents a parent's home and that person's interactions with the child
- the child's wishes, if the judge finds that the child is old enough to express a meaningful preference
- each parent's employment schedule.
The law gives Tennessee judges a lot of flexibility to establish parental rights and responsibilities based on the best interest of the child. In addition to the guidelines listed above, the court may consider any other factors the judge finds relevant to the situation.
Court Should be Your Last Resort
Going to court to get custody of a child will be stressful for you and, worse, tough on the children. Also, because judges have so much flexibility to make custody decisions, it leaves the family vulnerable to the biased opinions of individual judges. For these reasons and more, a court case is something to pursue only if all other options—like negotiation and mediation—have failed. Take advantage of all the resources available to you for creating a parenting plan before subjecting yourself and your kids to a court battle.
Studying the law. This article summarizes key factors courts use to make custody decisions in Tennessee. That said, family law is a complicated subject and laws do change. We recommend that you read the full version of Tennessee Code Section 36-6-106. Tennessee hasn't yet published a public version of its official state code online, so make sure the version you're reading is up to date.
Working with a lawyer. If you’re working with a lawyer, mediator, or both, ask them for help understanding how Tennessee law applies to your specific circumstances.
Finding your local family court. In Tennessee, family law cases are handled in the county circuit courts. Be sure to take advantage of the self-help resources your court offers.
You may also be interested in:
Know the basics of how to get custody of a child in Tennessee, from the best interests of the child to child custody mediation and going to family court.
Know how joint physical custody and joint legal custody work in Tennessee so you can create the best parenting plan for your family.
Answers to common questions about Tennessee custody enforcement, including whether police will enforce a custody order.