What Is the Best Interest of the Child in Tennessee Family Law?

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Like most states, Tennessee requires the court to consider several factors when it makes decisions for a child in a divorce. Tennessee statutory law specifies exactly what a judge must take into account in determining the best interests of the child, while leaving the judge room for discretion in the case of other relevant factors. Keep reading to learn more about those considerations, as well as what you do to balance your parental rights with your child’s best interests during a divorce. If you are living through these circumstances, call a Memphis family law attorney with decades of experience in these questions to help advise you.

Best Interest of the Child: Tennessee’s Statutory Solution

When presiding over a divorce, Tennessee judges look to Tennessee Code § 36-6-106. The statute defines the best interest of the child in a divorce proceeding according to fifteen elements, some of which are:

  • The love, affection, and emotional ties between each parent and the child
  • The child’s relationship with their siblings and other relatives
  • Whether one parent has consistently been the child’s primary caregiver
  • The willingness of each parent to work with the other for the child’s wellbeing

This willingness to cooperate comes up in the very beginning stages of the divorce. Ideally, the parents would talk through an agreement covering all aspects of the child’s care, such as:

  • Where the child will primarily live
  • What visitation schedule the non-custodial parent will have
  • A blueprint of how much and what specific decision-making power each parent has

The benefit here is that, if discussions remain amicable, each parent has a big opportunity to directly influence the parenting plan. Otherwise, if the parents can’t work together, then the court itself would need to decide. The judge would determine the best interests of the child with a degree of discretion and control that otherwise might not arise when parents can agree. Hence, compromises are crucial for the parenting plan.

It’s to note that even when parents do agree on their plan, the judge is still legally allowed to reject it if they conclude that the plan is contrary to the child’s best interest. Courts rarely reject the plan both parents put forth, but it can happen. For this and previously described reasons, both parents should have knowledgeable legal counsel.

As they negotiate and if necessary, in discussions with the judge after talks break down between ex-spouses, both parents will argue why the statutory factors in § 36-6-106 favor them. Their assertions will need to be backed up with evidence, more than just personal testimony of the individual parent.

Third-party testimony, however, is a much more powerful tool. Whether from family, friends, the child’s teachers, or whoever else has close knowledge of the child and their parents, third-party testimony is especially useful if you have had legal or substance problems. A third party’s account of your rehabilitation and recuperation can remedy concerns the court may have.