Child custody is a common concern parents often have at the beginning of the divorce process. More specifically, parents often wonder what custody options are available, who gets to make decisions about child custody and how that decision will be made. Understanding the answers to these questions can help parents advocate for the best custody option for their children.
What custody options are possible?
Like most states, Tennessee has both physical and legal custody, and either type of custody can be given to one or both parents. Physical custody refers to the physical care and supervision of the child. Typically, physical custody also refers to where the child will live. If sole physical custody is awarded, one parent is the primary caregiver for that child and the child lives with that parent most of the time. If joint physical custody is awarded, the child will usually travel from one parent’s house to the other, although the child’s time may not be evenly split between the two houses.
Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. These decisions usually include those about the child’s education, religion and health care. Often joint custody is awarded, regardless of the type of physical custody awarded.
Who makes decisions about child custody?
Courts often prefer if parents work together to create a parenting plan that they both agree on. This often works out for the benefit of the child as well as parents because parents often know better than anyone else what their child’s needs are. Parents are also able to have the most control over the custody arrangement when they agree on a plan. However, when parents cannot agree on a plan, a court will decide.
If a court decides, how is that decision made?
When a court must decide a custody arrangement, it does so based on the best interests of the child. When determining a child’s best interests, the court can consider any relevant factors.
Factors relevant to a child’s best interests may include:
- The child’s relationship with immediate family members
- The child’s emotional needs
- Each parent’s ability to parent the child
- The length of time the child has spent in a stable environment
- The character of others who may frequent either proposed home
If you are a parent beginning the divorce process, it is important that you understand the basics of child custody. Having a full understanding of the custody options available to you and how custody is determined, can help you better advocate for the best interests of your child.