Child Custody & Visitation

When referring to custody and visitation time with children, Tennessee uses the terms “residential time” or “parenting time.” These terms generally refer to the time that a child is with a parent during the day and overnight. The parent who spends the majority of time with the child is called the Primary Residential Parent (“PRP”). The other parent is called the Alternate Residential Parent (“ARP”). The factors that the Court shall consider when determining who will be the PRP of the child can be found in the Tennessee Code at §36-6-106. Once the residential time is resolved, the parties will generally enter into a Permanent Parenting Plan. This is a document filed with the Court setting forth the visitation schedule in great detail. You can see a sample Permanent Parenting Plan Order at the Shelby County Government website

Child custody and visitation can be highly contested matters if the parents are unable to agree on these issues. Usually, the parents will be required to attend mediation with a mediator to see if the parents can resolve their disputes and enter into a Permanent Parenting Plan that will then be entered with the Court. Once entered, the Permanent Parenting Plan is presumed to be correct unless a material change in circumstance exists which affects the child’s best interest. If the parents cannot agree to the terms of a Permanent Parenting Plan, either between themselves or through the mediation process, the parties will proceed to a contested custody hearing. Since contested custody proceedings are generally heated and emotional, the Court may require the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem, an attorney for the child, or may order a formal, custody evaluation. Both of these options can be very expensive and intrusive in that other individuals become involved in investigating the parents’ disputes as to custody and visitation and make recommendations to the Court as to those issues. Once any evaluation is completed, the Court will issue its ruling as to custody and visitation, which may or may not be what the parties wanted. Therefore, it is better for the parties to attempt to work through their parenting disputes between themselves or in the mediation process so that they have some control over the custody and visitation schedule for the child.