Tennessee Domestic Violence in Family Law Matters

Tennessee has criminal laws against domestic violence, protection orders to prevent future abuse, and family laws to protect victims from further harm by addressing child custody issues when domestic violence occurred. Read on to learn more about the state's family laws on domestic violence.

Domestic Violence Protection Orders During Divorce

If you experience domestic violence in any intimate relationship, it may be in your best interests to obtain a protective order. If a protection order has been granted and you file for divorce, the order remains in effect until the divorce is finalized or the protection order is dissolved by the divorce court. This can be helpful as protection orders in Tennessee are generally only valid for one year.

If your abuser violates the order, it can be extended up to five years for the first violation or ten years for the second violation. The extension is possible for any protection order. If you fled your home to avoid abuse or sexual assault or had to physically defend yourself or child from imminent physical or sexual abuse, you can still get the benefits awarded by protection orders. For example, you can obtain temporary rights to the family home or custody of the children, even if you had to initially leave both to seek help.

Child Custody and Domestic Violence in Tennessee

Tennessee utilizes the best interests of the child basis for deciding child custody. The court considers many factors including the emotional ties between the parents and child, ability to provide care, stability for the child, and the child's preference - if over 12 years old.

Fortunately, when child physical or sexual abuse occurred, the relocation of a non-abusive parent who fled the abusive parent doesn't weigh into who should be awarded custody. However, a murder conviction or liability for wrongful death of the child's other parent is factored into child custody determination.

The parental rights of your abusive former spouse or partner can also be terminated if it's in the best interest of the child. Some of the reasons for terminating parental rights are:

  • Failure to provide financial support before or during childbirth or not reasonably and consistently provide child support as ordered by the court
  • Not seeking child visitation or, if granted, failing to attend visitation
  • Abandoning the child
  • Placing the child with the parent would pose a risk of substantial physical or mental harm to the child
  • Committing severe child abuse or being sentenced to two years or more in prison for conduct against the child or another child in the home
  • A prison sentence of 10 or more years when the child is under 8
  • Homicide conviction or wrongful death of the child's other parent
  • Rape conviction and the child was conceived from the rape

Tennessee Domestic Violence Laws

The table below details Tennessee family laws related to domestic violence.

Code Sections

Tennessee Code Title 36: Domestic Relations, Chapter 3: Marriage, Part 6: Domestic Abuse

Tennessee Code Title 36: Domestic Relations, Chapter 6: Child Custody and Visitation

How Does Domestic Violence Affect Child Custody?

In addition to the fleeing domestic violence and homicide or wrongful death factors mentioned above, other domestic violence related issues can affect child custody.

A parent who believes the child is being abused or is victim from witnessing domestic violence, the parent can't be deprived of custody, visitation, or contact with the child solely based on reasonable actions taken to protect the child. If the child abuse is found by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), than the court can use that evidence to determine the visitation arrangement that’s best for the child.

Visitation with a parent found to commit child abuse may only be awarded if:

  • Supervised by a responsible adult or agency
  • The abuser completes a counseling program before visitation begins
  • Overnight visits are prohibited until a demonstrated change guarantees the safety of the child
  • The address of the child and non-abusive parent is confidential
  • Any other conditions the court thinks are necessary

The court can't place a child in the custody of a parent who presents substantial risk of harm to the child.

How Does Domestic Violence Affect Divorce Mediation?

In Tennessee, many types of family law cases are required to go to mediation, including divorce, alimony, child custody, and visitation cases. However, if you’re a victim of domestic abuse, you can avoid this requirement. If there's a protection order, court finding of domestic violence, or any criminal conviction related to domestic abuse within the marriage, the court can only order mediation if:

  • The victim agrees to it
  • The mediator is certified in family violence and protecting the safety of the victim, or
  • The victim can have a support person at the mediation including an unpaid advocate or attorney.

Where Can I Get Help?

If someone is abusing you, please reach out for help. If it's an emergency, call 911. When you’re safe, try calling the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence 24-hour hotline at 1-800-356-6767 for help with safety planning and referrals for services in your area.

If you need help with a divorce or child custody or support problem, contact a qualified Tennessee family law attorney.

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- it's important to verify the state laws you're researching.

Research the Law

Tennessee Domestic Violence Laws: Related Resources

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