ZEALOUS ADVOCACY FOR YOUR PARENTAL RIGHTS AND YOUR CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS
Child custody is often the most contentious issue of a divorce because neither parent wants to lose any time devoted to their kids. In addition, parents often think they know their children better, and can take much better care of them than the other parent. Tennessee child custody law allows for flexibility in designing parenting plans that fit your circumstances and your children’s needs.
At WalshLaw, I negotiate and craft parenting plans with your unique situation in mind. I am often able to reach a negotiated settlement, which gives you and the other parent greater control over the outcome, so both of you have a greater investment in making the plan work. However, there are always occasions when settlement is impossible or inappropriate. If you have to fight for your parental rights or your child’s welfare, you can rely on my courtroom skill and zealous advocacy.
UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS OF TENNESSEE CHILD CUSTODY LAW
To understand how courts decide child custody in Tennessee, you have to be familiar with some basic terms:
- Primary residential parent — Formerly called the custodial parent, the PRP is the parent with whom the child lives most of the time.
- Alternative residential parent — Formerly called the noncustodial parent, the ARP is the parent with whom the child lives less than 50 percent of the time.
- Final decision-making authority — Either parent can make day-to-day decisions for the care and control of the child whenever the child is physically with them. However, the right to make important decisions related to your child’s health, welfare, education, religious training and other weighty matters requires final decision-making authority, formerly known as legal custody. Parents can share this authority (formerly called joint legal custody), or authority can be assigned to one parent. It is also possible for authority to be divided between the parents on an issue-by-issue basis.
- Parenting time — Parenting time is the time a child spends with a parent, either living in their home or as part of scheduled contact.
- Parenting plan — This is the document that memorializes the schedule of parenting time and the allocation of final decision-making authority. A parenting plan can be a detailed schedule of when a child is with each parent or it can be a more general outline, designating one parent as the primary residential parent and guaranteeing the other parent frequent, meaningful parenting time with the child.
Tennessee family law requires parents to submit a parenting plan to the court to qualify for a divorce. Parents who cannot negotiate a plan must enter mediation and make a good-faith effort to generate one. In mediation, the parents work with a neutral third party — the mediator — who attempts to guide them toward a mutually acceptable compromise. Mediation is self-scheduled and can be done in a single meeting or over several sessions. If mediation fails, the parents can litigate the issue in court.
CAPABLE MANAGEMENT OF CUSTODY ISSUES REQUIRING LITIGATION
Although adopting a workable parenting plan is often the greatest challenge in a custody dispute, other issues frequently arise related to child custody, including:
- Relocation — A PRP’s desire to relocate at a significant distance with the children can be very controversial. A court will only approve relocation if it is in the best interests of the children. However, the burden placed on the ARP’s parenting time is a weighty factor as well. Parents often have to negotiate a new parenting plan on a summers-and-holidays time-sharing model.
- Interference with parenting time — Tennessee law guarantees an ARP’s basic rights, including the right to have “unimpeded” telephone conversations twice a week with their child, at a reasonable time and for a reasonable length; the right to send mail to the child that won’t be opened, censored or destroyed by the other parent; the right to prompt notice of a major illness; and the right to receive educational records directly from the school. When a PRP interferes with statutory rights or rights memorialized in the parenting plan, the ARP has the right to go to court and request enforcement. Under certain circumstances, the court can consider changing the custody order to give additional parenting time to the ARP.
- Grandparent or Stepparent visitation — After a divorce or the death of one parent, grandparents can sometimes be cut off from their grandchildren. Tennessee law gives grandparents limited rights to seek visitation when they have an established relationship with their grandchildren and contact is in the best interest of the child. However, if the child’s parents are married and have not been shown to be unfit, the court will not interfere with a parental prerogative to prevent the grandparent from contacting the child. I have taken these types of cases up to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, successfully, and I can advise you on them, whether you are a parent, grandparent or step-parent. For a divorcing step-parent, it can be very difficult to maintain a relationship with your former stipchildren, but in some circumstances, it may be possible.
For these particularly challenging issues and many others, you can rely on my determination and highly professional advocacy, and you may also rely on me to give you the bad news up front if I think your case will be difficult to win.
Contact my Nashville, TN office for a child custody consultation
WalshLaw provides honest counsel and zealous advocacy for child custody disputes. To schedule a consultation, call 615-915-0760 or contact my Nashville office online. My office is located at 4535 Harding Pike, just west of White Bridge Pike and Woodmont Boulevard