Without a doubt, finding yourself in a custody battle can be one of the most tense and emotional parts of any divorce. The stakes are high when it comes to your children. You certainly want what is best for them, but have you ever wondered whether they have a say in the matter?
Depending on your child’s age, Tennessee law allows for the court to hear the preference of a minor child in custody consideration. However, “reasonable preference” of the child will only be one of several weighed factors in determining what the court deems is overall best for your child.
Which children get a say in custody arrangements?
In a list of fifteen relevant factors, Tennessee Code includes the preference of a child over 12 years of age. The court may also hear from younger children upon request, however more weight will be given to those who are older. Therefore, when it comes to determining the best custody arrangement for your child, their voice may be considered amongst an extensive list of other factors.
Simply put: the court will hear an older child’s preference, but this does not mean it will be a deciding factor in your child’s custody order.
Discussing custody preferences with your child
A custody agreement will have a significant impact on your child. Your lives will be shaped by the extent to which each parent is involved in day-to-day parenting decisions. You surely recognize this, and depending on their age, your child may as well. In the high stakes and emotional season of divorce, it is important to honor their changing reality and range of feelings throughout the process.
Whether or not your child feels strongly about staying with a certain parent, aim to discuss with them how the court will review and consider the case. Your child’s overall wellbeing will always trump their feelings in the eyes of the judge. In some cases, this may be difficult for your child to come to terms with, but it is best to acknowledge this reality with them and allow them time to accept it before heading into the thick of things. Relaying this information early on to your child will help set up realistic expectations about their voice in the official custody agreement.
What kind of custody plan is best for children?
Tennessee, like many states, prefers some form of joint custody for the wellbeing of the child, because children thrive when both parents are involved in their lives. (There are exceptions, of course.) In some circumstances, one parent may successfully argue that they are more fit for the role and fight for more responsibility or time. Whether you are fighting for more equal time with your children or are trying to argue for majority custody, it is crucial to understand the values of the court. In compiling a strong case for any custody agreement, consider the following factors:
- The nature and stability of the parent-child relationship. The judge will consider the long-standing history of each parent’s role in the life of the child. If one parent performed the vast majority of the daily responsibilities, they could have an advantage. If the relationship was turbulent, inconsistent, or distant, the court may decide to grant legal custody and/or a greater percentage of residential custody to the other parent.
- Past and future potential for shared parental responsibilities. In keeping with the court’s desire for the child’s best interest, a strong case will prove a parent’s willingness to allow both parents a close, continuing connection to their child. Displaying a history of denying parenting time to the other parent will negatively impact a case.
- The child’s relationship with siblings, relatives, their school, and other significant persons. Developing the best custody agreement for your child requires considering other significant people in their life. The court will want to see an agreement that considers the holistic wellbeing of the child. This means considering potential separation from long-standing personal connections and relatives, causing a change in schools, or terminating extracurricular activities.
- Behavior and character of other people who frequent the home of a parent. Personal relationships, whether that be romantic partners, frequenting friends, roommates, etc., will certainly be investigated in a potential home environment. If a parent brings convicted felons into the home, hosts all-night parties, or frequently leaves your child with strange babysitters, or if your child expresses discomfort, fear, or anxiety about the people in the home, the courts may be inclined to deny custody. Be mindful of changes to a potential home environment and how a judge will view the impact on your child’s life.
Courts care about what is best for your child
In summary, yes, Tennessee law allows a judge to consider the wishes of a child 12 years and older. The impact that their preference has on the outcome of the custody agreement will vary from case to case. Regardless, the best bet for achieving the strongest case for your child will be to take a holistic approach to parental and home life factors.
At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, we recognize the difficulties child custody agreements put on both parents and children. Our experienced Franklin child custody attorneys aid in crafting negotiated solutions based on the best interests of the children while aiming to accommodate needs of the parents. Often times we are able to reach agreements without the need for further litigation. To learn more about how to provide the best future for your children, call our office at 615.977.9370 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. Our attorneys represent parents and children throughout Franklin, Columbia, and Brentwood, Tennessee.