The decision to relinquish custodial rights is one that can dramatically affect the life of your child. If you are considering giving up custodial rights, consult with your lawyer and decide whether the other parent is equipped to take custody of your child. If the other parent is unfit or unwilling to take custody, your child could end up in state custody. In Tennessee, the Department of Child Services manages cases of abuse involving children, but also offers referrals to families in crisis. If you are having trouble managing your children, consider contacting a mental health professional or an agency that can refer you for help.
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Custody agreements in Tennessee address legal custody, which governs who makes decisions regarding the child, and physical custody, which addresses where the child lives. Custody is commonly used, however, to refer to the primary custodian -- the person with whom the child lives. If you wish to make the other parent the primary custodian, you will need to petition the court for permission. If, however, you are not the primary custodian and wish to reduce visitation with your child, you may be able to get the other parent to agree to a reduced visitation schedule.
Custody modifications are handled through the court where your original custody case was heard. You will need to complete a petition to modify custody, which you can obtain from the court clerk. If both parents agree to the change, a judge will determine whether the change is in the child's best interests and issue an order if he feels the change is warranted. If only one parent petitions for the change, the burden of proof is on that parent to demonstrate the change is in the child's best interests. The judge will hold a hearing, at which you may submit evidence or call witnesses who can support your desire to change custody.
Altering your custody agreement will not relieve you of child support obligations. In Tennessee, it is typically the noncustodial parent who pays child support, so you may end up paying more child support if you reduce the time you spend with your child. If you wish to reduce your child support obligations, you may petition the court with evidence of a hardship, reduced income or reduced expenses for the child.
Terminating Parental Rights
The termination of parental rights removes any rights or obligations you have to your child. Judges are unlikely to terminate a parent's rights to his child unless there is an adoptive parent or an ongoing pattern of abuse. If you wish to terminate your rights so that another person -- such as a stepparent, foster parent or other parental figure -- can adopt your child, you must file a petition to terminate parental rights with the court in the county where your child resides. The prospective adoptive parent, state agency and other related entities also have the right to petition to terminate your rights.
References & Resources
- State of Tennessee: Tennessee Compilation of Selected Laws on Children, Youth and Families, 2011 Edition
- Tennessee Courts: Rule 39: Termination of Parental Rights
- Building a Parenting Agreement that Works: Mimi Lyster Zemmelman
- Family Law; Leslie Harris, Lee E. Teitelbaum
- Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images