Divorce is never easy, especially when children are involved. Whether you're negotiating custody with your soon-to-be ex or petitioning the court directly, it's important to know the different forms of custody available, the rights and responsibilities that come with each, and the factors a judge considers when awarding custody. If sole custody is your ultimate objective, a Tennessee court will evaluate whether this arrangement is in the best interests of your child.
Sole Custody Basics
Tennessee recognizes both legal and physical custody. Legal custody represents a parent's right to decide how her child will be raised, as it relates to education, religion, health care and the like. Physical custody, on the other hand, represents a parent's right to provide a home for her child and see to the child's day-to-day needs. If a Tennessee court grants you sole custody, you will possess both, giving you the right to both raise and provide a home for your child as you see fit. Since you will not be sharing custody with your child's other parent, the court will likely grant him visitation rights so he also has an opportunity to foster and maintain a parent-child relationship with the child.
Joint Custody Distinguished
Like many states, Tennessee presumes joint custody, also known as shared custody or shared parenting, is in the best interests of the child when both parents agree. Unlike sole custody, shared custody means both parents provide a home for the child and together make decisions about the child's education, health and welfare. Typically, the amount of time the child is to spend in each parent's home and the requirement that all major decisions involving the child are made jointly is outlined in a parenting plan, entered into by the parents and approved by the court when the divorce is finalized. Although joint custody is ideal, it is only feasible when parents can share in the "care, custody and control" of their children amicably.
Best Interests of the Child
When deciding custody in a divorce, Tennessee courts always look to what arrangement is in the "best interests of the child." If pursuing sole custody, especially if your former spouse disagrees, it's important to know what factors the court will consider when making this determination. Factors include the "love, affection and emotional ties" between parent and child; each parent's ability to provide for the child and extent to which the parent has been the child's primary caregiver; stability of the parent's family unit; and parent's willingness to "facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship" between the child and other parent.
Once awarded sole custody of your child, you are entitled to child support from your child's other parent. Your former spouse is not absolved of his responsibility to contribute to the care and support of your child simply because he was not granted custody. In general, as part of the divorce decree, the court will establish a child support award in accordance with Tennessee's child support guidelines, which require noncustodial parents to contribute a portion of their income to custodial parents for their child's "suitable support and maintenance."