A Look At Co-Parenting In Tennessee

If you are contemplating or involved in a divorce with minor children, then custody will be a major component of your litigation and/or settlement. Divorce courts now use the term "co-parenting." This is because your parenting plan, whether agreed upon via settlement or ordered by the court, must designate a primary residential parent or PRP. The other parent is then deemed the alternate residential parent or ARP.

These designations must be in place even if the actual co-parenting is exactly 50-50. The ARP still retains all of the same rights duties and obligations of the PRP, including the ability to consent to medical care, receive school records and participate in school events. However, most schools use the PRP's residential address to determine where your children are zoned for school.

How Are Co-Parenting Schedules Determined?

When a divorce court decides a co-parenting schedule, many factors are considered, including:

  • Each parent's ability to instruct, inspire and encourage the child
  • The nature and stability of the parent-child relationship, including distribution of past parenting responsibility
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • Willful refusal to attend a court-ordered parent education seminar
  • The parents' ability to provide for the child's needs and education
  • A review of which parent has historically been the primary caregiver
  • The emotional needs and developmental level of the child
  • The character and fitness of each parent
  • The child's relationships with siblings and other significant adults, as well as physical surroundings, school or other activities
  • Continuity and length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment
  • Evidence of physical or emotional abuse of the child or the parents or third parties
  • The character and behavior of anyone else who lives in or frequents the home of a parent
  • The child's preference if at least 12 years old
  • The parent's employment schedule
  • Other factors deemed relevant by the court

The court will hear testimony from each parent and, if relevant, any extended family, other caregivers, teachers and mental health professionals who have provided care to the family.

What Should A Parenting Plan Address?

A parenting plan also addresses many other issues besides just a co-parenting schedule. Your parenting plan will outline which parent will carry health insurance for the child and how uninsured costs will be paid, whether either parent is required to carry life insurance for the benefit of the child and how tax exemptions for the children will be handled. Also, the plan will state how educational, major medical, religious and extracurricular activity decisions will be made — by one parent only or if both must agree.

An agreement or settlement may also be reached by the parents. This often happens at mediation. Settlement, as opposed to a trial in court, allows both parents to have greater control over their families' schedules. A settlement can allow the parties to draft a parenting plan that is an exact fit for both parents' work schedules and the children's activities as well.

Also, settlement can allow for a variety of creative ways to address each family's issues and needs. For example, a family may desire to draft two separate schedules – one for a very young child, and then a second schedule designed to fit the child's needs upon starting school. Settlements can also account for third-party caregivers and/or non-cohabitation clauses.

Sometimes, situations may arise that require supervised or limited co-parenting for one party. This may be the result of abuse, drug use, mental or physical health problems or inadequate housing. Under certain circumstances, a parent may request that a temporary parenting plan be ordered by the divorce court at the beginning of the divorce process to address these issues. However, not all divorce courts will allow this prior to mediation. In that case, if the threat of harm is serious or severe, then filing a petition alleging dependency and neglect in juvenile court may be required.

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