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Helping East Tennessee Clients Protect Their Children’s Best Interests

One of the most difficult aspects of any divorce is determining child custody. For most folks, it’s the hardest part of getting a divorce. It leads to a lot of heartbreak, and often to a lot of anger. Those are natural responses, but it’s important to remember that under the law, the only thing that matters is what’s in the best interest of your children.

As child custody attorneys, the team at Shepherd & Long finds solutions that address the needs of the children, while allowing both parents to continue to maintain close ties and participate in the decision-making process. We have four decades of collective experience as child custody lawyers in Maryville, and have guided many East Tennessee families through the sensitive issues pertaining to children and divorce. You can trust us to help you while we look out for your kids.

The Types Of Child Custody In Tennessee

When it comes to child custody, there are four terms you need to know:

  1. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make decisions about education, religious upbringing, and medical care and treatment.
  2. Physical custody determines the child’s primary residence.
  3. Sole/full custody means one parent has both legal and physical custody of the child.
  4. Joint custody means both parents share in living arrangements and the decision-making process.

Sometimes, a court may grant one parent sole legal custody of a child, but joint physical custody. This means both parents get equal parenting time, but only one parent is charged with making decisions about how the child is raised.

Understand that even if one parent is granted sole custody of the child, that does not mean the other parent is not entitled to parenting time (AKA, visitation). A good example of this is when one parent has to move out of state for a job. The in-state parent may be granted full custody, and the out-of-state parent may get a few weeks of visitation, usually during the summer or the holidays.

A judge may also award sole custody to Parent A if there are concerns about the child’s safety with Parent B. Even under these circumstances, however, Parent B may be entitled to visitation, albeit supervised visitation.

How do courts in Tennessee make decisions about child custody?

While parents have their own wishes regarding the custody of their children, the Tennessee courts make their decisions based solely on the best interest of the children. As lawyers with extensive experience in divorce mediation, we often help parents negotiate their own child custody terms as part of their parenting plans so that the judge doesn’t have to get involved.

When parents cannot reach agreement, however, judges consider certain factors in making their decision. Those factors include:

  • Existing ties between the children and parents
  • Past performance of parental duties
  • The mental and physical history of each parent
  • Issues pertaining to physical and/or mental abuse within the household
  • Preferences of children aged 12 or older
  • The desire of each parent to help ensure a continued close relationship between the children and the other parent

What is a parenting plan?

The parenting plan is a tool required by the Tennessee Courts to specify the details of custody and support issues after the divorce. Completion of the parenting plan requires a great deal of thought, and Maryville child custody lawyers can provide valuable assistance in formulating a workable plan for the entire family.

The parenting plan covers every imaginable issue pertaining to the children, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Residential time with each parent, including a daily schedule
  • Holiday schedule
  • Seasonal vacations
  • Transportation arrangements
  • Joint and individual decision-making

Since the form also includes details pertaining to financial needs, you need a child support lawyer who can help ensure your parenting plan includes financial provisions acceptable to the court.

Can I modify my child custody order?

Yes; child custody orders can be modified in Tennessee if there has been a material change in circumstances, and if the modification of the order will be in the best interests of the child. The most common examples include:

  • One parent moving out of state, or at least 50 miles away
  • One parent getting a new job with new hours that aren’t conducive to the current order
  • One parent suffering a medical condition that leave him or her unable to care for the child
  • One parent committing and act of domestic violence or abuse
  • The child’s needs changing in a significant way

Please note that if you or your child is at risk of being abused, you can request an emergency hearing for a restraining order and temporary custody.

My ex stopped paying child support; can I deny him/her visitation?

No, you cannot, and you could go to jail if you do. Child support and child custody are not dependent upon each other. If your ex stops paying support, there are legal actions we can take on your behalf to enforce that order. If, however, you attempt to alienate your child from your ex, or prevent your ex from seeing your child, you could be held in contempt of court. Judges don’t like it when parents use their children as pawns, so it won’t go well with you if you violate the order.

Can grandparents seek visitation in Tennessee?

Yes, they can. Under Tennessee law, a grandparent can seek visitation or even custody of their grandchildren, provided the circumstances are right.

My child’s other parent and I were never married; how do I seek custody?

Tennessee law doesn’t really distinguish between married and unmarried parents. In fact, as long as your name is on the birth certificate, then you should have no problem seeking custody of your child. If your name isn’t on the birth certificate, however, and your ex is trying to keep you from seeing your child, you will need to have a paternity test done. This will prove that the child is yours, and your right to parenting time will be protected under the law.

Seek Support From An Experienced Maryville Child Custody Lawyer

Although life necessarily changes for children after divorce, child custody lawyers in Maryville can help families maintain consistent family relationships by finding creative solutions to unique issues while developing effective parenting plans acceptable to the Tennessee courts. For more information or to schedule a consultation with a Maryville child custody attorney at Shepherd & Long, call 865-383-3118 or fill out our contact form.