3 Steps to Settling Child Custody in Tennessee

Settling is often touted as the ideal way to resolve a case because it has parents work together instead of battle in court. When parents settle, they draft an agreement together, then submit it to the court for approval.

To reach a settlement, parents can try an alternative dispute resolution method like mediation, which is required by many courts when parents can't agree on their own.

Once parents have negotiated successfully, they follow the steps below for their type of case, with minor variations by case and county. A legal professional or legal aid office can help you through the process.

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Steps to settling a custody-only case

Step 1: Draft your parenting plan

A parenting plan details your agreed-upon parenting arrangement. To draft it, you can use Tennessee's Permanent Parenting Plan or a customizable format like the Custody X Change parenting plan template.

Both parents must sign the plan in front of a notary. Make three copies — two for parents to keep and one for the court.

Step 2: Hand in your parenting plan

There are two ways to submit your parenting plan.

When you open a case or anytime afterward, you can hand in your forms at the juvenile court in the county where your child lives. The court clerk will forward your plan for review. Ask them to date stamp your copies.

Alternatively, you can give your plan directly to the judge or magistrate at a court conference or docket call.

Step 3: Get the judge's approval

The judge or magistrate will review your plan to ensure its terms are in the child's best interest. If so, the court official will sign off to make it the final custody order.

Steps to settling a divorce or separation case

To settle a divorce case, you must select irreconcilable differences as your ground (i.e. your reason), meaning you cannot get along well enough to continue your marriage.

An agreed divorce can lead to a faster settlement, but you must qualify (requirements on page 1).

All other divorce settlements are simply called uncontested divorces.

Step 1: Draft your agreement

Your agreement spells out the terms you and the other parent have come to. It has multiple components.

Fill out Tennessee's Permanent Parenting Plan to detail your parenting arrangement. You can add extra detail by attaching a Custody X Change parenting plan.

Complete and attach a Child Support Worksheet, downloadable through the state's Child Support Calculator, to show whether your agreed-upon amount differs from what's calculated using the guideline child support formula.

Next, draft a Marital Dissolution Agreement (called a Marital Separation Agreement if you're separating) to cover the remaining matters in your case, such as the division of assets and property.

In addition, parents filing for agreed divorce fill out the following forms in the agreed divorce packet:

  • Divorce agreement
  • Final Decree of Divorce
  • Court Order for Divorcing Spouses
  • Divorce Certificate

Both parents must sign all paperwork in front of a notary. Make one copy per parent and a copy for the court.

Step 2: Hand in your agreement

You can file your agreement with the court when opening a case or anytime afterward or, if you don't have an agreed divorce, give it directly to the judge at a court conference. Ask the court representative to date-stamp your copies.

Step 3: Get the judge's approval

How you can get the judge's approval depends on your case and court.

In some courts, the judge can sign off on the agreement without a hearing once your case has been on file for 90 days.

Elsewhere, a settlement hearing is required. You must call the court clerk no sooner than 90 days after you open a case to schedule it. If you have an agreed divorce, make sure the hearing happens less than 180 days from when your agreement was notarized. Ask if there are forms you must file prior and what you should bring the day of.

You may have to notify the other parent of the hearing. You'll fill out the notice in the agreed divorce packet (linked above), send one copy to the defendant via certified mail and file the original with the court.

Usually, only the spouse who filed the case needs to attend the hearing, but it's best for both parents to appear to show they're on board. Bring copies of all the forms you've filed. If the court is closed during regular operating hours for an extraordinary circumstance, the hearing may occur virtually.

The judge will ask about the agreement, paying close attention to whether the parenting plan meets the child's best interest. If it does, the judge will sign off.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive a final order. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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