Tennessee Code Annotated

Title 36: Domestic Relations

Chapter 6: Child Custody and Visitation

Part 1: General Custody Provisions

TCA 36-6-101: Decree for custody and support of child -- Enforcement -- Juvenile court jurisdiction -- Presumption of parental fitness -- Educational seminars.

(a) (1) In a suit for annulment, divorce or separate maintenance, where the custody of a minor child or minor children is a question, the court may, notwithstanding a decree for annulment, divorce or separate maintenance is denied, award the care, custody and control of such child or children to either of the parties to the suit or to both parties in the instance of joint custody or shared parenting, or to some suitable person, as the welfare and interest of the child or children may demand, and the court may decree that suitable support be made by the natural parents or those who stand in the place of the natural parents by adoption. Such decree shall remain within the control of the court and be subject to such changes or modification as the exigencies of the case may require.

(2) (A) (i) Except as provided in this subdivision (a)(2)(A), neither a preference nor a presumption for or against joint legal custody, joint physical custody or sole custody is established, but the court shall have the widest discretion to order a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of the child. Unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of a minor child where the parents have agreed to joint custody or so agree in open court at a hearing for the purpose of determining the custody of the minor child. For the purpose of assisting the court in making a determination whether an award of joint custody is appropriate, the court may direct that an investigation be conducted. The burden of proof necessary to modify an order of joint custody at a subsequent proceeding shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.

(ii) Unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, there is a presumption that custody shall not be awarded to a parent who has been convicted of a criminal offense under title 39, chapter 13, part 5, against a child less than eighteen (18) years of age.

(iii) Subdivision (a)(2)(A)(ii) shall apply only to persons who are convicted on or after July 1, 2006. Subdivision (a)(2)(A)(ii) and this subdivision (a)(2)(A)(iii) shall not be construed to prevent a parent from being granted visitation with the child; provided, however, that any visitation shall be supervised.

(iv) If it is determined by the court, based upon a prior order or reliable evidence, that a parent has willfully abandoned a child for a period of eighteen (18) months, as the term is used in SC 36-6-406(a)(1), then, unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, the abandoning parent's residential time, as provided in the permanent or temporary parenting plan or other court order, shall be limited. This subdivision (a)(2)(A)(iv) shall not be construed to prevent such a parent from being granted limited visitation with the child. Nothing in this subdivision (a)(2)(A)(iv) shall be construed to apply to children in the legal custody of the department of children's services.

(B) If the issue before the court is a modification of the court's prior decree pertaining to custody, the petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence a material change in circumstance. A material change of circumstance does not require a showing of a substantial risk of harm to the child. A material change of circumstance may include, but is not limited to, failures to adhere to the parenting plan or an order of custody and visitation or circumstances that make the parenting plan no longer in the best interest of the child.

(i) In each contested case, the court shall make such a finding as to the reason and the facts that constitute the basis for the custody determination.

(ii) Nothing contained within this subdivision (a)(2) shall interfere with the requirement that parties to an action for legal separation, annulment, absolute divorce or separate maintenance incorporate a parenting plan into the final decree or decree modifying an existing custody order.

(iii) Nothing in this subsection (a) shall imply a mandatory modification to the child support order.

(C) If the issue before the court is a modification of the court's prior decree pertaining to a residential parenting schedule, then the petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence a material change of circumstance affecting the child's best interest. A material change of circumstance does not require a showing of a substantial risk of harm to the child. A material change of circumstance for purposes of modification of a residential parenting schedule may include, but is not limited to, significant changes in the needs of the child over time, which may include changes relating to age; significant changes in the parent's living or working condition that significantly affect parenting; failure to adhere to the parenting plan; or other circumstances making a change in the residential parenting time in the best interest of the child.

(3) Except when the court finds it not to be in the best interests of the affected child, each order pertaining to the custody or possession of a child arising from an action for absolute divorce, divorce from bed and board or annulment shall grant to each parent the rights listed in subdivisions (a)(3)(A)(i)-(vi) during periods when the child is not in that parent's possession or shall incorporate such rights by reference to a prior order. Other orders pertaining to custody or possession of a child may contain the rights listed in subdivisions (a)(3)(A)(i)-(vi).

(A) The referenced rights are as follows:

(i) The right to unimpeded telephone conversations with the child at least twice a week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations. The parent exercising parenting time shall furnish the other parent with a telephone number where the child may be reached at the days and time specified in a parenting plan or other court order or, where days and times are not specified, at reasonable times;

(ii) The right to send mail to the child which the other parent shall not destroy, deface, open or censor. The parent exercising parenting time shall deliver all letters, packages and other material sent to the child by the other parent as soon as received and shall not interfere with their delivery in any way, unless otherwise provided by law or court order;

(iii) The right to receive notice and relevant information as soon as practicable but within twenty-four (24) hours of any hospitalization, major illness or injury, or death of the child. The parent exercising parenting time when such event occurs shall notify the other parent of the event and shall provide all relevant healthcare providers with the contact information for the other parent;

(iv) The right to receive directly from the child's school any educational records customarily made available to parents. Upon request from one (1) parent, the parent enrolling the child in school shall provide to the other parent as soon as available each academic year the name, address, telephone number and other contact information for the school. In the case of children who are being homeschooled, the parent providing the homeschooling shall advise the other parent of this fact along with the contact information of any sponsoring entity or other entity involved in the child's education, including access to any individual student records or grades available online. The school or homeschooling entity shall be responsible, upon request, to provide to each parent records customarily made available to parents. The school may require a written request which includes a current mailing address and may further require payment of the reasonable costs of duplicating such records. These records include copies of the child's report cards, attendance records, names of teachers, class schedules, and standardized test scores;

(v) Unless otherwise provided by law, the right to receive copies of the child's medical, health or other treatment records directly from the treating physician or healthcare provider. Upon request from one (1) parent, the parent who has arranged for such treatment or health care shall provide to the other parent the name, address, telephone number and other contact information of the physician or healthcare provider. The keeper of the records may require a written request including a current mailing address and may further require payment of the reasonable costs of duplicating such records. No person who receives the mailing address of a requesting parent as a result of this requirement shall provide such address to the other parent or a third person;

(vi) The right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made about such parent or such parent's family by the other parent to or in the presence of the child;

(vii) The right to be given at least forty-eight (48) hours' notice, whenever possible, of all extracurricular school, athletic, church activities and other activities as to which parental participation or observation would be appropriate, and the opportunity to participate in or observe them. The parent who has enrolled the child in each such activity shall advise the other parent of the activity and provide contact information for the person responsible for its scheduling so that the other parent may make arrangements to participate or observe whenever possible, unless otherwise provided by law or court order;

(viii) The right to receive from the other parent, in the event the other parent leaves the state with the minor child or children for more than forty-eight (48) hours, an itinerary which shall include the planned dates of departure and return, the intended destinations and mode of travel and telephone numbers. The parent traveling with the child or children shall provide this information to the other parent so as to give that parent reasonable notice; and

(ix) The right to access and participation in the child's education on the same bases that are provided to all parents including the right of access to the child during lunch and other school activities; provided, that the participation or access is legal and reasonable; however, access must not interfere with the school's day-to-day operations or with the child's educational schedule.

(B) Any of the foregoing rights may be denied in whole or in part to one or both parents by the court upon a showing that such denial is in the best interests of the child. Nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit the court from ordering additional rights where the facts and circumstances so require.

(C) All parenting plans submitted to the court by one (1) party only shall contain the notarized signature of that party. All parenting plans submitted to the court by both parties jointly shall contain the notarized signature of both parties.

(4) Notwithstanding any common law presumption to the contrary, a finding under former SC 36-6-106(a)(8), that child abuse, as defined in SC 39-15-401 or SC 39-15-402, or child sexual abuse, as defined in SC 37-1-602, has occurred within the family shall give rise to a rebuttable presumption that it is detrimental to the child and not in the best interests of the child to award sole custody, joint legal or joint physical custody to the perpetrator of such abuse.

(b) Notwithstanding any provision of this section to the contrary, the party, or parties, or other person awarded custody and control of such child or children shall be entitled to enforce the provisions of the court's decree concerning the suitable support of such child or children in the appropriate court of any county in this state in which such child or children reside; provided, that such court shall have divorce jurisdiction, if service of process is effectuated upon the obligor within this state. Jurisdiction to modify or alter such decree shall remain in the exclusive control of the court that issued such decree.

(c) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to alter, modify or restrict the exclusive jurisdiction of the juvenile court pursuant to SC 37-1-103.

(d) It is the legislative intent that the gender of the party seeking custody shall not give rise to a presumption of parental fitness or cause a presumption or constitute a factor in favor or against the award of custody to such party.

(e) (1) In an action for dissolution of marriage involving minor children, or in a post-judgment proceeding involving minor children, if the court finds, on a case by case basis, that it would be in the best interest of the minor children, the court may on its own motion, or on the motion of either party, order the parties, excluding the minor children, to attend an educational seminar concerning the effects of the dissolution of marriage on the children. The program may be divided into sessions, which in the aggregate shall not exceed four (4) hours in duration. The program shall be educational in nature and not designed for individual therapy.

(2) The fees or costs of the educational sessions under this section, which shall be reasonable, shall be borne by the parties and may be assessed by the court as it deems equitable. Fees may be waived upon motion for indigent persons.

(3) No court shall deny the granting of a divorce from the bonds of matrimony for failure of a party or both parties to attend the educational session. Refusal to attend the educational session may be punished by contempt and may be considered by the court as evidence of the parent's lack of good faith in proceedings under part 4 of this chapter.

History: Code 1932, SC 8454; Acts 1971, ch. 438, SC 1; 1973, ch. 387, SC 1; 1979, ch. 187, SC 3; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), SC 36-828; Acts 1985, ch. 382, SCSC 1, 2; 1987, ch. 145, SC 9; 1987, ch. 266, SC 1; 1994, ch. 818, SC 1; 1996, ch. 1046, SC 1; 1997, ch. 208, SC 1; 1997, ch. 351, SC 1; 1998, ch. 1059, SC 7; 1998, ch. 1095, SC 1; 1999, ch. 250, SC 1; 2000, ch. 751, SC 1; 2000, ch. 885, SC 1; 2002, ch. 616, SC 1; 2002, ch. 859, SC 1; 2003, ch. 245, SC 1; 2004, ch. 759, SCSC 1, 2; 2006, ch. 652, SC 1; 2006, ch. 979, SC 1; 2014, ch. 617, SCSC 2, 3.