Tennessee Parenting Plan, Primary Residential Parent & Divorce Law


Tennessee Parenting Plan, Primary Residential Parent, and Divorce Law. An overview of the Tennessee parenting plan law from Memphis divorce attorney Miles Mason, Sr.

As of January 1, 2001, the concept of “custody” disappeared from most of Tennessee’s law books. This was a direct result of the “parenting plan” legislation.

Generally, in order for the parties to receive a divorce, Tennessee divorce laws require court approval of a “permanent parenting plan” issued on court-approved forms which comply with certain strict statutory requirements. Requirements for the permanent parenting plan include listing out in detail the responsibilities of each parent with respect to decision-making;  where the children will sleep during weekdays, weekends, and holidays; how parents will make educational decisions;  financial support; procedure by which the parents will handle disagreements (most parties will choose mandatory mediation); and any other important child development issues.

Links to Tennessee’s Parenting Plan Forms (Current as of July 1, 2014):

Tennessee Permanent Parenting Plan Form (Word document)
Tennessee Permanent Parenting Plan Form (PDF)

Tennessee Parenting Plan and Divorce Law Videos


Tennessee Child Support, Parenting Plans – Interview Part 1


Tennessee Child Support, Parenting Plans – Interview Part 2

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More About Tennessee Parenting Plan, Primary Residential Parent & Divorce Law

Tennessee’s Parenting Plan Law also requires that the permanent parenting plan list all rights possessed by the parents as enacted by the Legislature, which include the right to telephone access with the children and unfettered rights to medical and school records. The parenting plan form is very detailed and will require a sincere effort by both parents to reach an agreement. This law, in effect, will require parents to act like adults. Few exceptions exist, but important exceptions apply in situations involving domestic violence.

Creating this permanent parenting plan can be challenging. If there is not immediate agreement between the parties, mandatory mediation is an extra step that a party can request or a court can impose. For parents who can get along, this shouldn’t pose a serious problem but only impose a few extra headaches. For those parents who can’t agree and who don’t get along, a serious investment of time and resources will be needed. In theory, this investment should pay dividends in the long run, reducing the need to return to the court system when conflicts arise.

As a beginning point, there are new terms to learn:

  • “Primary residential parent” takes the place of “custodial parent.”
  • “Residential time” or “parenting time” replaces “visitation.”

The new terms don’t mean exactly the same as the old ones. “Final decision-making authority,” a.k.a. “control,” still exists as a concept. Final decision-making authority will most likely be possessed by the “primary residential parent.” For day-to-day decision-making, the parent with whom the children are residing at that time will have the say-so.

For major decisions, however, there is an opportunity to divide important parental responsibility between the parents. The new law created a parenting plan form which, by design, can allow for the splitting of decision-making authority by subject matter between the parents on such important issues as education, health care, extra-curricular activities, and religious training. Other categories may be added by the parties. Depending upon the particular parent’s perspective, the permanent parenting plan will either help the parties avoid conflict or create conflict where it didn’t exist before.

According to the new law, before a divorce will be granted, both parents must attend a parenting education seminar lasting at least four hours. In some cases where sincere disagreement appears inevitable, the parties may first be required to seek court approval of a temporary parenting plan. Temporary parenting plans require less detail than permanent parenting plans and are not designed to last for a long time.

In the event no permanent parenting plan is agreed upon, the first stop will most likely be mandatory mediation. Although there are other forms of alternative dispute resolution allowed, mediation is by far the most common. If the alternative dispute resolution process fails, the parents will head towards trial.

Proposed permanent parenting plans must be filed and served no less than forty-five days before the trial date. If one parent fails to file a proposed parenting plan, that parent runs the risk of having the filing parent’s plan approved by default. Each proposed parenting plan must include an attached statement of income and expenses and be signed under oath that the plan was proposed in good faith and in the best interest of the child.

Parents who aren’t represented by attorneys can be at a serious disadvantage. Relying upon the statements of an opposing spouse who is represented can be damaging, especially if the statements are not completely candid. As before the new law, the first few decisions following separation or filing the divorce are very, very important. Under the new parenting plan law, waiting to take action or seek advice can be a very bad thing.

The new parenting law can create opportunities for parents to put aside differences and address the actual best interests of the children. While the new law does create an additional layer of bureaucracy for every divorcing parent, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The parenting plan law was created to reduce the litigation nightmare that custody fights created.  In general, most experienced family lawyers agree that it has accomplished that goal.

For more discussion, see Parenting Plans in Tennessee and Tennessee Child Custody Laws in Divorce.  Also, for a more detailed discussion of parenting issues, child support, and 8 examples of parenting plans from real Tennessee cases, purchase the Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family, by Miles Mason, Sr. available on Amazon.

Miles Mason Family Law Group

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Memphis family lawyers, Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC is located in Memphis, Tennessee serving clients in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett and the West Tennessee area.

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