Child Custody Laws in Tennessee

Guide to Child Custody Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee parents who are going through a divorce may be overwhelmed and anxious about the family court process.  If you're involved in child custody proceedings, learning more about the child custody laws in Tennessee can help you to understand what the process for determining child custody is likely to look like for you.  This guide will teach you about the preferences in Tennessee child custody laws, so that you can have a better grasp on what the judge in your case will be looking for in a parenting plan.

Parenting Plans and Mediation

Tennessee courts strongly prefer that parents work out a parenting plan on their own rather than asking for judgment from the court.  To facilitate this, parents will be encouraged to file a parenting plan, and if they cannot come to an agreement, they will be asked by the court to attend mediation.  Mediation uses a neutral, third-party mediator to help resolve disputes and allow productive negotiation.

Only if mediation fails will the court begin the process of preparing for a custody hearing.  Child custody laws in Tennessee used to have a stated preference for mothers when a child was 7 or younger, but since 1997, mothers and fathers are viewed as equals by the court regardless of a child's age.

Joint Custody

Child custody laws in Tennessee have an explicit preference for joint custody.  Joint custody is presumed to be in the best interests of the child unless the judge determines otherwise based on one parent being somehow unfit (or not wishing to maintain parental decisionmaking responsibilities).

Many people think of joint custody as looking like a 50/50 split in a child's time.  However, the majority of joint custody decisions do not split physical custody equally.  Instead, joint custody refers to the ability of both parents to come to joint decisions on a child's schooling, religious upbringing, residence, and so on.  Usually, one parent will be assigned primary physical custody, and the other parent will have a smaller amount of parenting time.

Sole Custody

If joint custody cannot be established because a parent is unfit or wishes to give up their decisionmaking responsibilities for their child, child custody laws in Tennessee will award sole custody to the other parent.  This parent will have exclusive control over where the child resides, goes to the doctor, or goes to church.  These decisions are generally made only when the court has exhausted any options to maintain joint custody between the parents.

Unless there is a compelling reason to disallow it (such as the safety of the child being compromised), the non-custodial parent will usually be awarded visitation rights.


Parents without primary physical custody will get to have visitation at specified times based on a parenting plan or court order.  Child custody laws in Tennessee allow supervised visitation if the court is concerned that a child's safety might be at risk during unsupervised visits.  Usually, even in cases where abuse has occurred, supervised visitation will be allowed so that children are not alienated entirely from their non-custodial parent.

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