When children are involved in family court actions, it raises the already high level of emotion that both parties are struggling with. It can also mean the addition of a guardian ad litem, possibly a family counselor, or even a visitation supervisor.

A judge’s primary responsibility when custody and visitation are at issue is to protect the best interests of the child(ren), and there are numerous tools the court has discretion to implement in doing so. One of these tools is the creation of a parenting plan, which is exactly what it sounds like; a blueprint that will hopefully allow parents to stop thinking in terms of custody and visitation, and begin thinking of how to work together to share the responsibilities of raising their children.

Parenting plans take the shape of formal agreements that set out the rules each parent must adhere to in order to facilitate a more cooperative effort to co-parent his or her children. These agreements are typically created with the help of an attorney to assist parents with adjusting to the struggles of daily parenting between two households, and possibly using two different parenting styles.

Parenting plans can be created by consent of the parents, or, in truly contentious cases, the court may order dispute resolution to establish a parenting plan. If all else fails, the court may set a temporary – eventual permanent – parenting plan to be followed. Parents who are able to work together to create a parenting plan will have much more freedom to negotiate and compromise, making it less likely that the plan will be violated, and that they will wind up back in court.

Requirements and enforcement of parenting plans

Parenting plans in Tennessee are required by statute to contain certain provisions and information to be valid. The parties must designate residential time for each parent, and must provide a statement of his and her respective incomes to show an ability to meet support obligations for the child(ren). Parents need to determine who will be responsible for decision-making authority as to educational needs, health care, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing, emergencies, and day-to-day decisions based on the home the child is living in at the time.

Because each parent tends to think, parenting plans may not always be followed. Family courts recognize the potential for a parent to deviate from an established parenting plan either out of defiance, or belief that he or she knows what is best for his or her child(ren). To prevent this from occurring, parenting plans become merged into court orders to make them more easily enforceable, and provide the other parent the ability to hold the non-compliant parent in contempt of court. This, however, does not mean that you and your co-parent cannot mutually agree to deviate from parenting plan provisions.

Factors that may affect your parenting plan

The court does have the ability to consider certain limitations when setting a parenting plan because what is in the child’s best interests is more important than the parents’ desires.

The Tennessee Code of Laws, in part, provides that residential time shall be limited if:

  • It can be shown that a parent has willfully abandoned his or her child, or has refused to accept parenting responsibilities.
  • There has been evidence of abuse of others living in the child’s household.
  • The parent has been convicted as an adult of a qualifying sexual offense.
  • The parent lives with an adult convicted, or juvenile adjudicated guilty, of a qualifying sexual offense. In this case, the parent’s contact with the child will be restrained unless the contact takes place outside the presence of the offender.

Other provisions of a parenting plan may be affected by the court if the condition could have a negative effect on the child(ren). In setting the visitation plan, the court also considers whether there is a significant substance abuse or health issue that may interfere with the ability of a party to parent. Additional exceptions are made when there is a lack of an emotional bond between the parent and child(ren), a parent’s propensity to create conflict may cause the child psychological damage, the criminal record of a parent may hinder his or her parenting abilities, and whether one parent has kept the child(ren) from the other parent without reasonable justification.

If you are in the process of choosing divorce, or you are already separately parenting your children without success, it is important to your child’s well-being to have consistency from, and cooperation of both parents. Let Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC know how we can help you through our contact page, or by reserving an in-person or video consultation with one of our Nashville family law attorneys by calling 615-454-9899.