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FAQ: What Is A Primary Residential Parent

Jan. 22, 2020

Any parent who is going through a divorce or a breakup in Tennessee should acquaint themselves with the term “primary residential parent.” This legal term tends to cause a great deal of confusion for parents who are entering into a permanent parenting plan (i.e., the plan indicating when the child will be with each parent, how parenting decisions will be made, how child support will be handled). Because of this, we’ve provided the following frequently asked questions and their answers for you below:

What Does It Mean to Be The “Primary Residential Parent”?

When a child lives with one parent more than 50 percent of the time, that parent is designated the primary residential parent (sometimes referred to as the PRP) under Tennessee law. But what happens when the parents have a joint custody arrangement under which custody is split 50/50? Who is the primary residential parent then?

When this happens, one parent will still need to be appointed as the primary residential parent. The couple can either amicably decide between themselves who will receive this designation or, if they are unable to sort this out, the court will pick for them. In either case, the parent who is not the primary residential parent is referred to as the alternative residential parent.

Does Being Designated the Primary Residential Parent Affect My Rights or Responsibilities as A Parent?

It is important to note that being designated the primary residential parent (or the alternative residential parent) does not affect your rights or responsibilities as a parent! Regardless of being labeled the primary or alternative residential parent, each parent is responsible for making day-to-day parenting decisions while the child is with them. As far as other parenting decisions go, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities as long as they are listed as joint decision-makers in the parenting plan.

Why Does Tennessee Law Require There to Be a Primary Residential Parent?

In Tennessee, one parent must be named the primary residential parent for two main reasons. First, because some benefits that flow to the child (such as social security) require that a default primary parent be named. Second, the primary residential parent’s home address will be used to determine which school district the child resides in.

If the Court Is Asked to Appoint a Primary Residential Parent, How Will They Make This Determination?

If the court is asked to craft a permanent parenting plan and appoint a primary residential parent, it will do so with the best interest of the child in mind. It will do this by determining which type of custody arrangement will most benefit the child. Under section 36-6-106 of the Tennessee Code, the court is directed to award custody to either parent or both parents jointly, after considering all relevant factors. These relevant considerations include, but are not limited to the following:

  • The child’s ability to adjust to a new home,

  • The mental health of each parent,

  • Each parent’s parenting skills,

  • The child’s custody wishes or preferences (if he or she is 12 years old or older),

  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs (for example, education, medical care, shelter, etc.),

  • Each parent’s willingness to foster their child’s relationship with the other parent,

  • Each parent’s ability and willingness to comply with a particular custody or visitation arrangement,

  • Testimony by any party as to what would be best for the child, and

  • Any other factors deemed relevant by the court.

If based on this evaluation, the court decides to award more than 50 percent custody to one parent, then that parent automatically becomes the primary residential parent. However, if the court determines that it is in the child’s best interest for their parents to have a 50/50 joint custody arrangement then it will pick one parent to be the primary residential parent based on the best interest of the child.

My Ex Is Insisting on Being Named The Primary Residential Parent, Should I Fight Them on This?

This is a tricky question to answer because each family’s circumstances are unique, but if you find yourself fighting with your ex over who should be named the primary residential parent, we advise taking a step back and considering what would be in your child’s best interest.

For example, does your ex live in a better school district and would naming them the primary residential parent enable your child to attend a better school? Or is this the only sticking point in an otherwise satisfactory parenting plan that you and your ex have crafted? If so, it may be worth considering a concession to get the parenting plan finalized on your terms rather than having the court decide for you.

With that said, it is always a good idea to consult with a local family law attorney about whether or not conceding on this point is a good idea given your family’s unique circumstances. A seasoned family law attorney will be able to evaluate your situation and advise what would be in the best interest of you and your child.

Contact Memphis Family Law Attorney Shannon A. Jones Today

Constructing a working permanent parenting plan is one of the most important steps that you should take in the wake of your divorce. To make sure that your child’s interests are carefully considered and your parental rights are protected; hire an experienced family lawyer to represent you. Family law attorney Shannon A. Jones has extensive experience representing clients throughout the greater Memphis area and would be happy to assist you. To find out what Shannon A. Jones, Attorney at Law can do for you call our Memphis office today at (901) 390-9041 and schedule a free no-obligation initial consultation.