Child Custody and Co-parenting after Divorce in Tennessee

How families in Tennessee are structuring themselves has been changing, so the law must change to keep up with the ways in which people are living. Gone are the days when mothers were almost automatically given primary custody of the child and fathers “dropped in” on their children’s lives. Now, some men are beginning to take more active roles in raising their children and being a significant presence in their lives.

More and more families are embracing the concept of co-parenting after divorce, or between two people who have a child together but never married. Two revisions to Tennessee law designed to support equal parenting time include the maximum parenting time provision and the Tennessee Parental Bill of Rights, which we will explore a bit here.

Maximum parenting time provision in Tennessee law

In the 2014 edition of Tenn. Code Annotated, Section 36-6-106, the following language was added:

“In taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child consistent with the factors set out below, the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability and all other relevant factors.”

This new provision, which was came about due to the tenacious lobbying efforts of fathers’ rights groups in Tennessee, applies only to custody orders going forward, so if there are already custody orders in place they will not be affected by this new law.  However, when there is a good cause for re-opening the case or parenting plan, the new criteria can be invoked if it is in the best interest of the children.  The goal is to provide ample opportunity for fathers to play as active a role as possible in their child’s life after the divorce.

Tennessee Parental Bill of Rights

Another law that supports equal co-parenting is the Tennessee Parental Bill of Rights, which was passed to provide some support to parents who do not have primary residential custody of their children. Under Tennessee law, both parents are entitled to 9 rights, which include:

  1. The right to unimpeded telephone conversations with the child at least twice a week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations. The parent exercising parenting time shall furnish the other parent with a telephone number where the child may be reached at the days and time specified in a parenting plan or other court order or, where days and times are not specified, at reasonable times.
  2. The right to send mail to the child which the other parent shall not open, destroy, or censor
  3. The right to receive notice and relevant information as soon as practicable but within twenty-four (24) hours of any event of hospitalization, major illness or death of the child
  4. The right to receive directly from the child’s school any school records customarily made available to parents. (Separate criteria are also in place for home schooled children.)
  5. Unless otherwise provided by law, the right to receive copies of the child’s medical health or other treatment records directly from the physician or health care provider who provided treatment or health care. The parent arranging the care must provide contact information for the medical provider to the other parent.
  6. The right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made about the parent or his or her family by the other parent to the child or in the presence of the child
  7. The right to be given at least forty-eight (48) hours’ notice, whenever possible, of all extra-curricular activities, and the opportunity to participate or observe them.
  8. The right to receive from the other parent, in the event the other parent leaves the state with the minor child or children for more than forty-eight (48) hours, an itinerary which shall include the planned dates of departure and return, the intended destinations and mode of travel and telephone numbers. The parent traveling with the child or children shall provide this information to the other parent so as to give that parent reasonable notice.
  9. The right to access and participation in the child’s education on the same bases that are provided to all parents including the right of access to the child during lunch and other school activities; provided, that the participation or access is legal and reasonable; however, access must not interfere with the school’s day-to-day operations or with the child’s educational schedule.

The intention behind this revision of the law was to give both parents the opportunity to be as involved in their child’s life as possible, and to make sure that the child’s other parent could not impose a barrier to their participation.

Are you a parent who is going through a divorce and you are concerned about getting equal time with your child after the divorce? Our Knoxville family law attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter can help. You are welcome to contact us to schedule a no-obligation consultation about your case.

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