What is “Custody”
Every divorce or paternity case in Tennessee involving children will result in a Permanent Parenting Plan that was either agreed to by the parties or ordered by a Judge. This plan will establish important guidelines for your children such as the day to day calendar, child support, and health insurance for your child(ren).
The Permanent Parenting Plan is a vital part of your case. During discussions with new clients, I always hear the term “custody” when talking about their desired parenting time with their children in a divorce case. The truth is, in the vast majority of cases, both parents will have “legal custody.” What clients usually mean when discussing “custody” is that they want to spend the majority of the time with their children. Instead of actually wanting “full custody,” what the parent usually wants is to be designated the Primary Residential Parent.
How is the Primary Residential Parent Determined?
Some parents get hung up in the status symbol associated with being the Primary Residential Parent and think that since the Judge named them Primary Residential Parent, that means the Judge thought they were a better parent. This is wrong. If your case goes to trial and both parents want to be designated Primary Residential Parent, a Judge will use what is called the “best interest of the child analysis” to make the decision. Found in Tennessee Code Annotated §36-6-106, the best interest of the child analysis uses a variety of factors to help guide the Court in its decision. Make sure to speak with your attorney about the specific factors in the analysis so as to ensure your evidence presented at trial is on point with the guidelines the Judge will follow.
Why does it matter?
There are really two reasons why the designation of Primary Residential Parent can be important in your case. First, the Primary Residential Parent’s home address will be what controls where the children go to school. It can therefore negatively affect your case if, during your divorce, you move out into a new home outside your current school zone. Secondly, a Primary Residential Parent will have the authority if he or she wishes, to move up to fifty miles from the other parent’s address with the children without needing any court approval. This could have major consequences on the Alternate Residential Parent’s visitation schedule.