Legal Information: Tennessee


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December 6, 2022

If a parent with custody rights has moved away due to military deployment, can the custody order be modified?

When a parent is deployed, s/he can give his/her custodial responsibility to another person, such as a grandparent, for example. In order for this to happen, there are two options.

1) The parents can enter into a temporary custody agreement that gives the parent’s custodial responsibility to another person. The agreement must be in writing and signed by both parents and by any non-parent who is getting custodial responsibility.1 The agreement should:

  • include the length and location of the deployment;
  • explain how the caretaking authority will be divided among the deploying parent, the other parent, and any non-parent with caretaking responsibility;
  • specify what decision-making authority, if any, will be given to each parent and non-parent;
  • provide a process for final decision-making when there is a disagreement regarding caretaking responsibilities between the non-deployed parent and a non-parent;
  • specify the type of communication that will take place between the deployed parent and the child, including the length of time, how often it will take place, any role to be played by the other parent in helping to carry out the contact, and who will pay for any costs of contact;
  • identify what contact is to occur between the deploying parent and child during the time the deploying parent is on leave or is otherwise available;
  • acknowledge that any change in either parent’s child support obligation cannot be changed by this agreement and that it must be handled in the appropriate court; and
  • provide that the agreement will terminate and go back to the terms of the original custody order once the deployed parent returns.2

2) If parents are unable to come to a temporary custody agreement, either parent can file a request with the court to issue a temporary order giving (“assigning”) another person the deployed parent’s custodial rights and responsibilities. If a custody case is already started, either parent can file a motion in that case. If a custody case is not already started, either parent can file an initial custody complaint to request that the court issue a custody order to address custody during the parent’s deployment.3

1 TN ST § 36-7-201(a), (b)
2 TN ST § 36-7-201(c)
3 TN ST § 36-7-302

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