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Child Custody Modification

Tennessee Child Custody Modification FAQs

What Is a Child Custody Modification?

A child custody modification is a change to the existing child custody arrangement. As a child’s needs change or if a parent faces particular challenges in life, a modification to the initial agreement may be required.

When Can Parents Modify a Custody Order?

These two conditions must apply to every child custody modification:

  1. Must be established upon a material change in circumstances

  2. Must serve the best interests of the child

The following circumstances may qualify you to have child custody modification:

  • Relocation of either parent

  • Increase or decrease in one parent’s income

  • Preference of the child

  • Serious health issues

  • Acts of domestic violence

How Do You Modify Custody in Tennessee?

Modifying a custody designation in a Parenting Plan requires a parent to meet a higher standard than with changing a parenting schedule. Tennessee law says that a parent must show “a material change in circumstance,” making the plan no longer in the child’s best interest. The courts have held that a parent needs to demonstrate a more significant change in circumstances than necessary to modify the parenting schedule.

The court will look at whether the change in circumstances occurred after the parenting plan was entered, whether the parents could have foreseen the change, and whether the change significantly affects the child’s best interest.

If a parent shows that there has been a material change in circumstances, the court will reconsider the statutory factors to assess whether a custody change is in the best interests of the child, including:

  • The child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs

  • The relationship each parent has with the child

  • Each parent’s work schedule

  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child

  • Each parent’s physical, mental, and emotional health

What Can and Can’t You Amend?

The division of property usually cannot be amended during these proceedings. Examples of possible amendments include:

  • Relocation. If one parent has decided to move over 100 miles away from the other parent without notification, the court the right to deny the right to relocation. It’s essential to seek legal counsel before relocating, especially in cases where child support and custody will be affected.

  • Alimony. If the spouse paying alimony has a significant change in income that will affect their ability to pay, this could be grounds for a modification. If the income of the spouse who is receiving child support changes or is residing with another party outside the initial terms of the divorce decree, this could also be grounds for modification.

  • Child Support and Custody. If the non-custodial parent’s income changes by over 15%, a parent becomes disabled, or a child’s expenses undergo a substantial change, child support payments may need to be modified. Cases of neglect or abuse and willful denial of visitation can also impact custody schedules.

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What Is a Permanent Parenting Plan?

This is a detailed written outline of how divorcing parents will take care of their children. Parenting plans divide up parenting responsibilities, establish a residential schedule, and allocate child support payments.

A residential schedule outlines when the child can be in each parent’s physical care and determines the primary residential parent. This schedule also takes care of details like where the children will reside on certain days of the year, including provisions for vacations, holidays, and birthdays.

If you have children and are seeking a divorce in Tennessee, you will be required to attend a parenting class and enter a parenting plan with the court. If you and your spouse cannot come to terms on a plan, you must go to mediation to try to agree on a plan before the court will decide your case.

Can I Change the Primary Residential Parent Designation?

Yes, if certain conditions are met. First, there must be a material change of circumstance. Then, the modification must be in the best interest of the child. The court will generally consider if the child is doing poorly in an essential area of their life, such as in school.

The court may be unwilling to change a designation that appears to be working. With the majority of parenting plans, the parents will be required to mediate these disputes before going to court.

What if The Child Decides They Want to Live with The Other Parent?

The child’s desire for a change of primary residential parent will usually not constitute a cause for modification. The child’s preference will only be one factor. If the child is older, the court will likely give more weight to their choice. The court may question the child’s motive or ask if the parent has unfairly influenced the child in any way.

Can the Misconduct of The Primary Residential Parent Lead to A Modification?

Possibly. A legal problem alone will typically not lead to a change of primary residential parent if the child is otherwise leading a normal, healthy life. The court will assess the circumstances and look for evidence of harm to the child. If there is no evidence of wrongdoing, the primary residential parent will most likely not be changed unless the improper conduct is particularly egregious.

Contact an Experienced Memphis Child Custody Lawyer

While child custody orders are intended to be permanent, sometimes exceptional circumstances arise, and a modification is needed.

If you are looking to establish or modify a child custody agreement in the greater Memphis area, family attorney Shannon A. Jones is ready to help. He has more than 20 years of experience helping parents in Memphis and throughout Tennessee reach positive solutions that allow them to spend the time with their children that they need and deserve. His approach to family law is always to put the needs of the children first, which allows him to offer valuable perspective and knowledgeable counsel to parents during this challenging time.

Call our offices today at (901) 390-9041 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss how we can help you.