In every action for divorce, legal separation, or paternity involving minor children, Tennessee Courts will enter a parenting plan, which sets forth how much time each parent will have with the child/ren and when that time will fall on the calendar. In an action for termination of parental rights, the Court will determine whether the proposed termination is in the best interest of the child.
In Tennessee, the law now refers to the allocation of parenting time between parents as “co-parenting time.” This new terminology reflects the legislature’s intent that child/ren should spend time with both parents, and that parents should work together to parent their child/ren, even if they are unmarried or divorced. “Co-parenting time” is the time that each party will spend with the child/ren, and it will be very specifically set forth in a parenting plan adopted by the Court.
The parenting plan will set forth a residential schedule and resolve other important issues that affect the child’s life. Specifically, the parenting plan will set forth the number of days per year that each parent will have with the children, which days of the week each parent will have with the child/ren, pick-up and drop-off times and locations, with whom the child/ren will spend holidays and birthdays in a given year, whether the parents must agree on important decisions affecting the child/ren, the amount of child support that must be paid, who will pay for health insurance and other costs related to the child/ren’s support and upbringing, and who will be the “primary residential parent” for the purposes of federal law.
If the parties are able to agree to a residential schedule and all the other terms of a parenting plan, then the Court will respect the agreement and enter it as a Court order in most cases. If the parties are not able to agree on a residential schedule, then the Court will make a determination based upon certain factors set forth by Tennessee statutes. Some of the factors are:
- Parent’s ability to instruct, inspire, and encourage the child
- Ability of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessary care
- Degree to which the parent has been the primary caregiver
- Love, affection, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child
- Emotional needs and developmental level of the child
- Character and physical and emotional fitness of each parent
- Child’s interaction and interrelationship with siblings and significant adults, physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities
- Importance of continuity in the child’s life
- Evidence of physical or emotional abuse
- Character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home
- Reasonable preference of the child, if the child is 12 years old or older