Modifying Child Custody in Tennessee

Modifying Child Custody: A guide to altering the court's Primary Residential Parent designation in Tennessee

Modifying Child Custody in Tennessee | Nashville Family Law Attorneys

You are divorced and, because children are involved, you must abide by the court ordered parenting plan. You (or your ex-spouse) now feel the Primary Residential Parent (PRP) designation should be changed. Here is what you need to know about modifying child custody.

Steps in modifying a custody plan

The court uses a two-step process when considering whether to modify custody (the PRP designation).

FIRST

The parent requesting the change must prove there has been a material change in circumstances that affects the best interest of the child in a meaningful way.

Material changes in circumstances may include: 

  • Change in employment of parent. 
  • Parent’s re-marriage. 
  • Character or conduct of parent/custodian. 
  • Criminal conviction of parent. 
  • Step-parent’s affection. 
  • Physical surroundings and environment of child. 
  • Presence of other children in the family. 
  • Child’s performance in school. 
  • Child’s preference, which is only given small consideration. 
  • Child’s age. 
  • Mistreatment of the child by a third party living in the home. 
  • Stability of the family home (fighting, domestic abuse). 
  • Alienation of affections of the child toward the other parent, which includes falsely accusing other parent of sexual abuse. 
  • Parent’s failure to adhere to the parenting plan or an order of custody and visitation. 
  • Circumstances that make the parenting plan no longer in the best interest of the child. 

Note: A material change of circumstance does not require showing there is a substantial risk of harm to the child.  TCA § 36-6-101

SECOND

Once a material change in circumstances is established, the parent requesting the change must show the court that changing the PRP designation is in the best interest of the child.

For this determination, the court is guided by ten factors set out in Tennessee law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106(a)), which is also known as the best interest or comparative fitness analysis. Ultimately, the court must be persuaded that the PRP change is in the best interest of the child.

The ten factors are as follows: 

  • Love, affection and emotional ties between the parents or caregivers and the child. 
  • The disposition of the parent to provide the child with necessities such as food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent or caregiver has been the primary caregiver. 
  • Continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment. 
  • Stability within the family unit. 
  • Mental and physical health of the parents. 
  • Home, school and community record of the child. 
  • Child’s preference. 
  • Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person. 
  • The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent or caregiver and the person’s interactions with the child. 
  • Parent’s past performance and the potential for the future performance of their parenting responsibilities, which includes the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate a good relationship between the child and the other parent. 

TCA § 36-6-101(a)

Note: The court may find there has been a significant change in circumstances, but when it considers the best interest/comparative fitness analysis, it may decide that the PRP should remain the same. Alternatively, the court could decide to change the amount of time each parent gets to spend with the child while not altering the PRP designation. 

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