Special Circumstances in Tennessee Child Custody

Every child custody case is different. If any of the following apply to your case, it's best to consult with an attorney.

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History of crime, violence or substance abuse

When choosing a custody arrangement or deciding whether to approve a settlement or proposed parenting plan, the judge considers each parent's past behavior.

Past conviction of child sexual abuse almost always disqualifies a parent from having any custodial rights. Recent child abuse is factored into the parenting plan being reviewed by the judge. Refusing to get treatment for drug or alcohol addiction also tends to rule out custodial rights.

Parents with less egregious offenses who have made significant changes are likely to get parenting time. The court may require some or all of the following:

  • Supervision of visits
  • Participation in counseling or another intervention effort
  • Ban on overnight visits
  • Address confidentiality for the child and the other parent

If you have an adverse drug or criminal history, you should seek to prove your reformation to the court. One way to do this is through testimony from someone who helped with your rehabilitation. Some parents may qualify for criminal record expungement, which erases arrests from their records.

If a parent makes false accusations against the other, they could be required to pay the other parent's attorney fees or be held in contempt of court, which could result in fines and jail time.

Victim of domestic violence

If you're a victim of domestic violence, the court process may look slightly different.

For example, mediation is optional for you, even if it's ordered by the court. If you attend mediation, you can select a mediator trained to deal with domestic violence and an advocate other than your attorney to accompany you.

Through Tennessee's Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program, you can conceal your home address.

If need be, you can fill out a Petition for Order of Protection to ask the court to award you temporary custody of your child or order the other parent to stay away from you.

There are also organizations that provide help and support to victims.


If you are the primary residential parent (PRP) and you wish to move out of state or more than 50 miles within the state, you must notify the alternative residential parent (ARP) and the court. The notice must include:

  • The new address
  • Reasons for the move
  • A statement informing the other parent that the court will grant your motion if they do not contest within 30 days of when the notice is sent

Sign the notice in front of a notary, then send a copy to the other parent via registered or certified mail. (If you're prohibited from contacting them, ask an attorney or the court to send it.) File the original notice and the mail receipt with the court.

If the ARP contests on time by filing a petition in court to block the relocation of the child, you'll have a hearing. Here, the ARP has to prove that the move isn't in the child's best interest if the PRP has significantly more parenting time than the ARP.

If the ARP does not contest on time, the court will grant you permission to move without a hearing.

Once allowed to move, you must file a petition asking the court to modify the parenting time schedule. You can agree on a schedule with the other parent or have the court choose one.

Parent in the military

Tennessee has adopted the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, which holds the court to certain standards when dealing with military parents. Among other things, the court must:

  • Quickly process requests for parenting schedule adjustments when the parent is facing deployment
  • Make sure permanent orders aren't impacted by temporary arrangements meant only to last through the deployment
  • Allow the parent's smooth transition back into the child's life upon their return

To avoid court, parents can include how they'll handle the parent's deployment or military obligations in their parenting plan.

Grandparent or sibling visitation and custody

If parents don't allow their child to visit his or her grandparents, the grandparents can petition for visitation. One of the following factors must apply for the court to consider their request:

  • A parent is deceased.
  • A parent is missing for at least six months.
  • A court in another state has granted the grandparent visitation.
  • The child lived with the grandparent for at least 12 months and was removed by the parent.
  • The grandparent and child have held a bond for at least 12 months, and interfering would harm the child.

Grandparents can petition for custody if parents are unfit or unable to take care of their child, or if one of the following applies:

  • Parents are divorced
  • Both parents are deceased
  • The child has been abused or neglected
  • The child has been abandoned

Even if one of the above is true, there's no guarantee the court will grant the request. Ultimately, the decision will be based on what's best for the child.

Addressing special circumstances in your parenting plan

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs.

If a lawyer is writing your plan, it's important you share with them any circumstances the plan should address.

If you're writing your own plan, you have the flexibility to include what you want. But it must follow a format the judge will understand and use language that leaves no room for interpretation.

The Custody X Change parenting plan template walks you through common provisions, while letting you enter as many custom provisions as you want.

It's a sure way to get a plan that's both up to court standards and tailored to your family.

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