Amending Child Custody Laws
The Tennessee State legislature recently passed a new addition to the Tennessee Code Annotated Section 36-6-106(a), that lists the factors to be considered when the court determines a child custody arrangement. Tennessee already had an existing set of 10 factors for the court to consider when making child custody arrangements. The 10 guidelines included the emotional ties between parents and children, a parent’s ability to provide food, clothing, education and medical care, stability in the child’s life, the mental and physical health of a parent, the home and school records of the child, the reasonable preference of a child over age 12, evidence of physical or emotional abuse, the character and behavior of other people living in the home and each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities.
The new addition to the Tennessee Code says: “In taking into account the child’s best interest, the court shall order a custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in the lives of the child consistent with the factors set out below, the location of the residence of the parents, the child’s need for stability and all other relevant factors.” The basis of the addition to the Tennessee Code does not really cover any new territory, but the references to “maximizing participation” in the life of the child, “consistent with the factors set out below” and “the location of the residence of the parents” do present additional concepts for the court to consider when determining what is actually in a child’s best interest.
The new language is a step in the right direction that goes beyond the suggestion of equal time and asks the courts to make direct custodial arrangement that would permit both parents to enjoy the maximum participation possible in their child’s life and at the same time the law is still based on the principle that what is in the child’s best interest is the ultimate consideration. The hope is that the added language will confirm that both parents that the are important in the lives of their children and encourages them to stay involved in their children’s lives. This will also hopefully take some of the heat off the family court judges who often have to make painfully difficult decisions concerning parenting schedules and in determining when a parent will be able to see their children. If the new Tennessee statute can serve as a tool to help children in a divorce situation by helping their parents think about what is ultimately best for the children, it will have met its goals.