In Tennessee, judges tend to defer to the parenting arrangements parents make together. Therefore, it is worthwhile to negotiate parental decision-making and parenting time with your soon-to-be ex-spouse during your divorce proceedings. If you cannot reach an acceptable agreement, though, a judge will intervene. 

When making custody determinations, judges in the Volunteer State must consider the best interests of the child. To gauge your likelihood of receiving the custody determination you want, you must understand what this legal standard means. 

Care, custody and control

In disputed parenting matters, judges can award “care, custody, and control” to either or both parents. First, the court must determine who will be the primary residential parent, which refers to where the child lives. Then, the court determines if one or both parents should have legal decision-making authority over issues such as education, religion and medical care.

Both can be either joint or sole. Joint decision-making authority means that both parents have equal decision-making authority and are expected to confer with each other on major issues. Sole decision-making authority grants all of the rights to one parent.

Similarly, parents can have joint or sole residential rights, with the child sometimes splitting time between homes. Very commonly, decision-making authority is joint, and parents may be given approximately equal parenting time.

A factor-based analysis

When determining which parent will have the care, custody and control of a child, judges have a legal obligation to consider the best interests of the child. Doing so requires carefully weighing nine statutory factors. Among others, these include the following: 

  • Each parent’s emotional connection with the child 
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs 
  • Each parent’s ability to create a stable environment for the child 
  • The child’s preference, assuming the child is mature enough

An ongoing standard

While setting up a parenting plan is a big step forward, the best interests of the child standard continues until your son or daughter reaches adulthood. Therefore, if either you or your ex-spouse decides to seek a modification of the order, a judge will once again evaluate the best interests of the child. 

Whether you are seeking an initial parenting order or a modified one, the best interests of your son or daughter are critical. If you use this standard to guide your negotiations with your spouse, you may never have to put your parenting arrangements in the hands of a judge.