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Know the Laws: Tennessee

UPDATED June 16, 2017

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This page includes information about custody that is specific to this state. There is also a page for general information that you may find helpful.

Basic Information

back to topHow will a judge make a decision about custody?

Custody is determined according to the best interest of the child.  In taking into account the child's best interest, the judge will order a custody arrangement that allows both parents to have as much participation as possible in the life of the child, taking into consideration the factors listed below, the location of the residences of the parents, the child's need for stability and all other relevant factors. The judge will consider all relevant factors, including:

  • Love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents or caregivers and the child;
  • Ability of the parents or caregivers to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care;
  • Degree to which a parent or caregiver has been the primary caregiver;
  • Importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable environment (If the court finds that the other parent abused your child, and you took the child from the home because of this, your relocation will not weigh against an award of custody.);
  • Stability of the family unit of the parents or caregivers;
  • Mental and physical health of the parents or caregivers;
  • Home, school and community record of the child;
  • Reasonable preference of a child who is twelve years old or older (The judge may hear the preference of a younger child on request. The preferences of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children.);
  • Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person;
  • Character and behavior of any other person living in or frequently visiting a parent’s home and his/her interactions with the child; and
  • Each parent or caregiver's ability to manage parenting responsibilities, including his/her willingness and ability to encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and other parent or caregiver.  In determining each party's willingness, the judge is supposed to consider: 
    • the likelihood of each parent and caregiver to honor and facilitate court-ordered parenting arrangements and rights; and
    • any history of either parent or any caregiver denying parenting time to either parent in violation of a court order.*
* TN ST § 36-6-106(a)

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back to topCan a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

Possibly, yes.  The judge is supposed to take into account a parent’s history of physical or emotional abuse towards you, the child, or anyone else when making a custody decision but many other factors will also be considered and the parent may still receive custody rights.*  Visitation may be awarded to a parent who has committed violence unless, after a hearing, the judge finds that visitation is likely to endanger the child's physical or emotional health.**  If the court determines that the parent has committed child abuse or child sexual abuse, the judge can only award visitation under circumstances that guarantee the safety of the child.  For example, the judge can order that all visits be supervised by a responsible adult or agency, that the parent go to counseling, no overnight visits, that the child’s address be kept confidential, and anything else to keep the child safe.***

It is recommended that you seek legal advice from a lawyer to assist you in a custody case involving domestic violence issues.  For information on how to find a lawyer see our TN Finding a Lawyer page.

* TN ST § 36-6-106
** TN ST § 36-6-301
*** TN ST § 36-6-107(b)

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back to topIf I am a domestic violence victim, would I be required to participate in mediation?

It depends.  Most custody or visitation cases may be referred to mediation to try to come to a custody or visitation agreement with the help of a mediator (instead of going to trial).  However, if you have a valid order of protection in effect or there are court findings of domestic abuse, the judge can only send the parties to mediation if you (the victim) agree to it and if the mediator is specifically trained in domestic violence.  You would also have the right to have a support person such as an attorney or advocate with you.*

* TN ST §§ 36-6-107(a); 36-6-305

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back to topWhere can I find more information about custody in Tennessee?

Legal Aid of East Tennessee has information that you can download called: "Basic Custody Guide" and "Custody Rights for Unmarried Parents" as well as other related topics.  Scroll down to the middle of the page under "Family Information".

The Tennessee State Courts website links to parenting plan forms as well as a guide to developing a parenting plan.

Please note that WomensLaw.org has no relationship with these websites and does not vouch for the information contained on them. We provide these links for your information only.

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