Ideally, custody arrangements last for years. They are designed to meet both parents’ requirements and capabilities for child care. However, circumstances do change. What happens when the custody agreement needs to be modified?
As with the original custody proceedings, both parents must present their cases, and the court will determine a fair arrangement. In the state of Tennessee, you must demonstrate a clear change in circumstances that affects the child’s well-being.
Why Change a Custody Arrangement?
Custody agreements are created based on each parents’ circumstances, including their financial security, living situation, and proximity to the child’s school. Typically, the courts issue a well-defined agreement with a child’s living schedule, as well as guidance for which parent(s) can make decisions for the child.
Given the rational basis for this arrangement, the courts will not grant modifications unless new circumstances materially affect the child’s well-being. That means that simple changes such as transportation logistics or minor schedule shifts often don’t warrant a new custody arrangement. However, big changes such as a change in the child’s primary residence, school, or access to essential care are good reasons to alter the agreement.
What’s Required to Change a Custody Agreement?
Under Tennessee law, the parent seeking changes has the burden of proof. They must clearly, honestly demonstrate that there has been a change of circumstances. Moreover, parents must prove that the change preceded the request. In other words, one cannot request modification, then create circumstances to justify the change. The judge will ask questions to ascertain that new circumstances warrant a custody change.
The court will also assess the original factors used to determine custody, but they tend to prioritize established routines. For example, if the original custody agreement placed the child with the parent who lived closest to the school, a judge may be reluctant to change that arrangement. It would be harmful to the child’s well-being to change schools for the convenience of the parents. Ultimately, a child’s well-being is the primary factor in every custody arrangement.
What Circumstances Allow for a Custody Change?
According to Tennessee law, a “material change in circumstances” must be documented. This includes significant changes that affect parenting or the child’s needs. For example, older children often strongly prefer to reside with a parent of the same gender.
If either parent’s circumstances change to the point that they cannot provide for the child, a parent may request a custody change. A job loss, health issues, and lifestyle changes can all constitute a “material change.” If either parent becomes involved in dangerous or illegal activities or is thought to be abusing the child, the other parent can request custody be switched with them. As with original agreements, every claim will be thoroughly investigated.
The custody arrangement can also be altered if one parent has not upheld their responsibilities under the original agreement. This includes both denying visitation, constantly no-showing on assigned dates, and a failure to provide sufficient care for the child.
What Doesn’t Qualify for a Custody Change?
In most cases, a parent cannot successfully request custody changes unless they can clearly prove that either (a) the current arrangement is harmful to the child or (b) a change in custody would be more beneficial to the child. Even big life changes are protected under the original agreement. For example, under Tennessee law, the primary residential parent can move up to 100 miles without the other parent’s consent. They are also within their rights to make key decisions for the child, including healthcare, education, religion, and extracurriculars. The other parent cannot request to alter the arrangement based on these decisions.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
Tennessee law permits some flexibility in custody arrangement changes. Generally, judges favor custody modifications that preserve the original agreement while accommodating new circumstances. Parents may come to a mutual agreement to deal with a change in their situations. Otherwise, the court will perform their due diligence to investigate all claims and prioritize the child’s well-being.
In either case, it’s important to have a qualified, compassionate lawyer in your custody hearing. If you’re facing a child custody dispute, contact experienced family law attorney Hunter Fowler for expert legal counsel. We will work closely with you to help you prepare your custody modification request for the courts and fight for the justice you deserve.