Child Custody

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Advocacy in Parenting Arrangements

Child Custody Initial Determination and Post-Divorce Modifications

While divorce is hardly unique, it is still difficult. This difficulty is multiplied if there are children of the marriage. Consequently, if you are getting divorced, we expect that the impact on your children is probably uppermost in your mind. Who gets primary custody? What will the visitation arrangements be?  How will the kids be affected by the process?  These are all questions we have helped countless clients answer over the years. Our experience has driven us to the firm conclusion that this is not the sort of area for an “off the shelf” or “one-size-fits-all” arrangement. Your life and family are unique, the solutions to these issues should take that into account.

A second point our experience has driven home is that contested litigation typically does not benefit families over the long-term. Because of this, we aim for out-of-court custody agreements that minimize the impact on children of divorce and preserve a healthy ongoing relationship between the parents.  This does not mean that we recommend you simply surrender your rights. 

A third, and equally important point that our experience has taught is that sometimes there is no choice but to fight for your children. This is never the preferred course, but we have experienced cases in which one parent is so unfit and unreasonable, that there exists no choice but to go into court and argue for the children.  In these cases, we vigorously fight to protect your rights and your children.

Custody Disputes and Parenting Plans

To get divorced with children you must have a Permanent Parenting Plan to determine who is primary residential parent (has a majority of the custodial rights) and alternate residential parent (usually the noncustodial parent).  The best scenario is for a parenting plan to be negotiated as opposed to to being ordered by the court. A mutual agreement that looks toward the future is less expensive, less stressful for you and the kids and less likely to cause friction or litigation later.  Our firm has worked with countless clients on these issues and can advise on how a court would likely rule in your situation based upon our experience.

Typically in determining custody, courts will look to the best interests of the child.  Generally, a starting point is that the parent who has provided care usually is named the primary residential parent regardless of earning capacity.  However, issues such as drug use, criminal history, conduct, stability and fostering a positive relationship with the other parent are all important factors courts consider and lawyers use to guide their clients.  These factors can impact not just custody determinations, but also visitation schedules. Unlike times past, there is not set rule for parenting time, or visitation.

Parenting plans can be built around a standard visitation schedule (alternate weekends, one overnight a week, extra time on holidays and summer vacation).  Increasingly, we have worked towards a more customized agreements to maximize parenting time for clients with non-standard work schedules (doctors, nurses, police officers, and airline pilots just to name a few).  We also can help negotiate a shared parenting/custody plan that splits parenting time approximately equally.

The alternative is to let the court determine the outcome. Custody litigation is one of the greatest costs in any divorce, with a guardian appointed for the child and battling experts to testify who is more fit for primary custody. Litigation can also poison the co-parenting relationship and pull the children into the middle of an adult matter.  These are things that we have seen have lasting impacts upon both the parents and the children.  However, sometimes a custody battle is unavoidable — in those cases we work to fight for you and the best interests of your children.

Custody Modifications

The court will alter custody if there is a substantial change in the children's circumstances — abuse, problems at school, behavioral problems or a detrimental home environment. The court will investigate and may award sole custody or primary residential parent status to the other parent. Even just a pattern of visitation (or nonvisitation) between the parties can lead to custody modifications.

In some situation, where neglect or abuse has occurred, a court can change custody and order treatment for the parent committing the abuse.  In those circumstances, it is not unusual for there to be a supervised visitation ordered. Supervised visitation is when the noncustodial parent gets to spend time with the child, but only under the supervision of a third party.  Sometimes this is a paid third party, such as the Exchange Club, and other times it is another family member. 


Relocating out of Tennessee with the children also requires court permission if a parent objects after the notice requirement is met as is listed in your parenting plan or Tennessee state law.  The court considers, among other things, the amount of parenting time the parents currently have, the child's ties to the present area and the reasons for the move. Is the custodial parent relocating for vindictiveness or other selfish reasons? Or has the parent found a better job, a better school for the child or is remarrying? You need a strong and experienced advocate for any contested custody proceedings.

Contact Misty D. Becker today for a confidential consultation about divorce and child custody.