Child Custody Process in Tennessee

Created by FindLaw's team of attorney writers and editors.

Breaking up is hard, but it becomes even harder when there are children involved. When a couple who shares a child breaks up, they need to make decisions regarding child custody and support. Unfortunately, these decisions aren't always easy to make and that's usually when courts have the authority to step in and make decisions for the parents. In fact, even if the parents can come up with their own parenting agreement, it's not final until it gets approved by the court.

Establishing Paternity in Tennessee

While Tennessee law presumes that a child born to a married couple is the child of the man (if applicable), an unmarried father must establish paternity before he can have custody rights. Paternity for unwed fathers is established through a court order, which can be entered because of an agreement between the mother and father or through a complaint to establish parentage.

A complaint to establish parentage can be filed by the child (if they've reached the age of majority), the child's mother, the alleged father, or the department of human services. If the child is a minor, they can still file the complaint through a guardian or next friend.

Overview of Child Custody Process in Tennessee

While reading the actual text of a law is important when you have a legal question, it's also helpful to read an overview of the law. In the following chart you can find both a brief overview of the child custody process in Tennessee as well as links to applicable statutes.

Statute(s) Tennessee Code, Title 36, Chapter 6, Section 36-6-101, et seq. (Child Custody and Visitation)
Filing for Child Custody

If the parents are married, one parent will file for divorce, each parent will attend a mandatory parenting class, the parents will come up with a parenting plan, and the court will review and approve of the plan if it finds that it complies with Tennessee law.

If the parents are unmarried, a petition to establish parentage must first be filed, then a settlement agreement regarding child custody and child support can be entered; if the parents can't agree, these issues will be determined at a trial.

Parenting Plans

A parenting plan is a detailed outline that defines the responsibilities of each parent, including parenting/residential time, transportation, and decision-making authority.

The residential schedule included in the parenting plan designates not only the primary residential parent, but also the time that the child will be in each parent's care.

What If Parents Can't Agree on a Parenting Plan?

If there isn't an agreement between a child's parents, Tennessee family courts have the authority to award the "care, custody, and control" of children to both parents or either parent. In making the decision, the court will consider the best interests of the child.

Related Statute(s)

Tennessee Code, Title 36:

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Child Custody Process in Tennessee: Related Resources

For more information and resources related to this topic, please click on the links listed below.

Get Legal Help with the Child Custody Process in Tennessee

Many times, child custody issues can get contentious between parents, particularly if the parents are going through a divorce. For this reason, it can be helpful to resolve such issues with the help of a legal professional. If you have questions about child custody laws, or simply want help with the child custody process in Tennessee, it's best to speak with a skilled child custody lawyer in your area today.

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