Fathers’ Rights in Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis, Tennessee fathers’ rights for dads in divorce: custody, maximizing parenting time, maximum participation possible, shared parenting, co-parenting & equal time.
Increasingly, Tennessee dads are asking Memphis attorneys how they should go about exercising their father’s rights to obtain child custody. Many fathers today want to co-parent, unwilling to settle for visitation “every other weekend” with their kids.
As time passes and society evolves, fathers are being awarded primary residential parent status and roughly equal time more and more. As well, mothers are agreeing more often to equal time and roughly equal time.
Tennessee Dads Have Rights
Fathers’ rights under Tennessee child custody law are often misunderstood. All things being equal, a Tennessee dad has the right to co-parent his biological or adopted child. But convincing the other parent and the court will require a plan and legal strategy. With assistance from an experienced father’s rights lawyer, fulfilling one’s dream of equal and shared parenting could become reality.
● Gender Not Determinative.
In 1997, the Tennessee Legislature determined that the gender of a parent should not determine if a father or mother should be awarded primary custody of his or her children. T.C.A. § 36-6-412 states:
It is the legislative intent that the gender of the party seeking to be the primary residential parent shall not give rise to a presumption of parental fitness or cause a presumption in favor of or against such party.
● Substantial Relationship.
Whether the parents are married or not, it is very important that the father step up to the plate and participate in child-rearing. The dad who has established a substantial relationship with his child protects his constitutional parental rights. Often, the question becomes which parent has served as the prime-caregiver to the child.
● Paternity Establishment.
The purported father has a right to establish paternity by acknowledgment or by petitioning the court. Unless agreed to by a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, this almost always involves DNA testing. (Of course, with paternity established the father has a duty to pay child support, too.)
● Equal Custody.
A father’s parental rights equal that of the mother’s. This includes legal custody and important decision-making; physical custody as PRP; and equal parenting time.
If an unmarried mother is pregnant, she can decide to terminate the pregnancy without the biological father’s knowledge or consent. Once the baby is born, however, things change. For instance, if the mother wants to give her baby up for adoption, she cannot do so without the father’s consent. If he withholds consent, only a Tennessee court can sever his parental rights. For helpful information read about a father’s legal rights in Tennessee at the Livestrong Foundation.
Father’s Rights: Winning Custody
For Tennessee parents, child custody challenges should not be about winning or losing. Instead, parents should focus first on doing what is in their child’s best interest, and second on both of them having the best possible parent-child relationship.
There are many winning custody strategies, though. The dad who wants to be very involved in his child’s upbringing and day-to-day care should discuss strategy early on with his lawyer. And any father who has been the child’s primary caregiver should be prepared to prove it in court. For winning custody tips, watch a video presentation by Memphis, Tennessee, family lawyer, Miles Mason, Sr., and read the Top 7 Tennessee Custody Strategies | How to Win Custody in a Tennessee Divorce.
● Tennessee Child Custody Factors.
Tennessee courts will consider numerous child custody factors to determine who should have custody and serve as primary residential parent. Each relevant factor provides an opportunity to present supporting evidence. Dads who are truly serious about co-parenting need to be familiar with the Tennessee child custody factors.
● Meaningful Relationship.
To begin, fostering and encouraging a meaningful relationship between the child and the other parent is an important custody factor, one too often overlooked. Co-parenting means working together. Getting along with the other parent and deflating anger in high-conflict situations is one of the most important characteristics that judges consider when determining who should be the primary residential parent (PRP). Be cool. Fathers wanting more time with their children must put aside their own anger and frustrations to learn how to co-parent effectively.
● Maximum Participation Possible.
Furthermore, Tennessee’s custody statute states that:
In taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the life of the child consistent with the [statutory custody] factors…, the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability and all other relevant factors. [Emphasis added.] T.C.A. § 36-6-106(a).
Father’s Rights: More Time Awarded in Court
A core concept in custody determination is history of primary caregiver. A father with a provable and meaningful track record of care-giving will have a much greater chance at both negotiating significant parenting time and winning a custody battle.
Evidence of day-to-day caregiving focuses on preparing food, homemaking, administering discipline, buying clothes, and getting children to doctors and dentists. Evidence of a father’s involvement in school and education is very important: parent-teacher meetings, helping with homework, and volunteering when possible for class activities, sports and extracurricular activities all matter.
● Keeping a Parenting Journal.
Father’s must document time, activities, and involvement in a parenting journal. A parenting journal includes a calendar of past parenting time, events attended, visitation disputes and problems, and detailed narratives of events, troubles, successes, and anything else a father’s rights attorney may want to know. Record them because memories fade with time. If you have not been keeping a parenting journal, start now. Catch up as best you can while events are still fresh in your mind.
Father’s Rights: Negotiating for Roughly Equal Time
The father who desires roughly equal time with his son or daughter should be prepared to negotiate that issue. If no parenting agreement is negotiated with assistance from the parties’ attorneys, then the custody issue will proceed to trial. To achieve the best possible custody outcome, the Tennessee dad should know how the case will proceed. Take time to read about the Tennessee Divorce Process: How Divorces Work Start to Finish.
As noted in 50/50 Equal & Shared Parenting Time in Tennessee Child Support Laws, a father’s request for more time with his child should not be seen as a means to reduce his child support obligation. With equal parenting time, the parent with the higher income is still expected to contribute to the other parent’s household expenses. Why? Because doing so is in the child’s best interests.
Father’s Rights: Shared Parenting vs. Equal Parenting Time
Many Memphis dads want shared parenting and substantially equal parenting time, which is great. But under Tennessee law, those two custody concepts encompass different parental roles.
● Shared Parenting.
When Memphis, Tennessee, family lawyers refer to shared parenting they usually (but not always) mean shared legal custody, where both parents have equal decision-making authority over important questions about how the child will be educated, what health care is needed, and what religion or faith the child will be raised in.
● Equal Parenting Time.
Because Tennessee custody law encourages maximum participation, many interpret this as encouraging maximum parenting time for both mother and father. Equal parenting time can be agreed to with the terms included in the parenting agreement. Although times are changing, albeit sometimes slowly, there are judges who resist entering 50/50 parenting time orders.
Knowing there may be some resistance from the bench, a dad who has been the child’s primary caregiver – and can prove it – has a much better chance of getting equal parenting time over the mother’s objection. Importantly, during the father’s parenting time, he has authority to make day-to-day decisions about the care and control of the child under Tennessee parenting plan forms.
Father’s Rights: Responding to Parental Alienation
Always be mindful that the court considers which parent is most likely to willingly encourage and facilitate a “close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both… parents, consistent with the best interest of the child.” T.C.A. § 36-6-106(a)(2).
When the mother engages in a pattern of parental alienation, intentionally or unintentionally, her activities could backfire when brought to the court’s attention. Parental alienation comes in many forms:
• Consistently disparaging dad in the child’s presence;
• Coaching the child to develop negative feelings about dad;
• Manipulating the child into fearing parenting time with dad;
• Playing games by blocking dad’s access to his child;
• Obstructing regular communication between dad and child;
• Destroying or concealing mail and gifts from dad to the child; and,
• Falsely accusing dad of child abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or domestic violence.
With a pattern of parental alienation sufficiently proven in court, the judge has greater reason to grant custody to the father. (That is precisely what happened in the Tennessee custody case of In re Jonathon S. C-B, M2010-02560-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012).) Conversely, the custody pendulum may swing in favor of the mother if the father engaged in parental alienation against her. Regardless, if there is any hint of parental alienation in the case, discuss the circumstances with a lawyer.
Father’s Rights Resources
Dads, do your homework. Co-parenting is not a slam dunk. Here are some additional resources to help you assert your parental rights to child custody:
• Fatherhood Educational Institute
• American Coalition for Fathers & Children
• Child Welfare Information Gateway
• National Center for Fathering
• DAD of Tennessee
• Fathers Rights Tennessee on Facebook
Fathers who share parenting and enjoy equal parenting time have much to offer their children, and they get so much in return. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this in Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248 (1983):
The significance of the biological connection is that it offers the natural father an opportunity that no other male possesses to develop a relationship with his offspring. If he grasps that opportunity and accepts some measure of responsibility for the child’s future, he may enjoy the blessings of the parent-child relationship and make uniquely valuable contributions to the child’s development.
The Miles Mason Family Law Group often represents fathers seeking as much time as possible with their children. We have succeeded in negotiating significant and meaningful parenting time. When unable to negotiate, we have gone to court and won primary residential parent status for our clients.