The following is a summary of Tennessee child custody laws, and is by no means intended to be an all-inclusive description of what to expect in your particular case. In some cases, the exact text of the statute may have been simplified and/or modified to provide for easier understanding. For a more specific understanding of the laws, you should consult the full Tennessee Code and/or consult with an attorney about how the law might apply to your particular situation.


In order for a court to decide custody of your children, whether by agreement of the spouses or by decision of the court, that court must have jurisdiction. Except as otherwise provided in §36-6-219 regarding Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction, a court of the state of Tennessee has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if:

  1. The state of Tennessee is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within six months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from Tennessee but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in Tennessee. “Home state” means the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding, or in the case of a child less than six months of age, the state in which the child lived from birth. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period;
  2. A court of another state does not have jurisdiction, or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that the state of Tennessee is the more appropriate forum, and:
    1. The child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and
    2. Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships;
  3. All courts having jurisdiction have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that a court of this state is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child under §36-6-221 or §36-6-222; or
  4. No court of any other state would have jurisdiction.

Please note: If you aren’t sure whether the state of Tennessee would have jurisdiction over you or your child(ren), you should consult an attorney.

-From Sections §36-6-205 and §36-6-216 of the Tennessee Code.

Best Interests of the Child.

In a suit for annulment, divorce, separate maintenance, or in any other proceeding requiring the court to make a custody determination regarding a minor child, such determination shall be made upon the basis of the best interest of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including the following where applicable:

  1. The love, affection and emotional ties existing between the parents and child;
  2. The disposition of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care and the degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver;
  3. The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment; provided, that where there is a finding, under § 36-6-106(a)(8), of child abuse, as defined in §§ 39-15-401 or 39-15-402, or child sexual abuse, as defined in § 37-1-602, by one (1) parent, and that a non-perpetrating parent has relocated in order to flee the perpetrating parent, that such relocation shall not weigh against an award of custody;
  4. The stability of the family unit of the parents;
  5. The mental and physical health of the parents;
  6. The home, school and community record of the child;
  7. The reasonable preference of the child if 12 years of age or older. The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preferences of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children;
  8. Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person;
  9. The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person’s interactions with the child; and
  10. Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child.

It is the legislative intent that the gender of the party seeking custody shall not give rise to a presumption of parental fitness or cause a presumption or constitute a factor in favor or against the award of custody to such party.

The court shall approve agreements of the parties allocating parenting responsibilities, or specifying rules, if it finds that the agreement is consistent with any limitations on a parent’s decision-making authority mandated by §36-6-406; the agreement is knowing and voluntary; and the agreement is in the best interest of the child.

-From Section §36-6-101, §36-6-106, and §36-6-407 of the Tennessee Code.

Designation of Custodian.

Solely for the purpose of all other state and federal statutes and any applicable policies of insurance that require a designation or determination of custody, a parenting plan shall designate the parent with whom the child is scheduled to reside a majority of the time as the custodian of the child; provided, that this designation shall not affect either parent’s rights and responsibilities under the parenting plan. In the absence of such a designation, the parent with whom the child is scheduled to reside a majority of the time shall be deemed to be the custodian for the purposes of such federal and state statutes.

-From Section §36-6-410 of the Tennessee Code.

Rights of Each Parent.

Except when the court finds it not to be in the best interests of the child, each parent has the following rights during periods when the child is not in that parent’s possession:

  1. The right to unimpeded telephone conversations with the child at least twice a week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations;
  2. The right to send mail to the child that the other parent shall not open or censor;
  3. The right to receive notice and relevant information as soon as practicable but within twenty-four (24) hours of any event of hospitalization, major illness or death of the child;
  4. The right to receive directly from the child’s school records, names of teachers, class schedules, standardized test scores, and any other records customarily made available to parents, upon written request that includes a current mailing address and upon payment of reasonable costs of duplicating;
  5. Unless otherwise provided by law, the right to receive copies of the child’s medical, health or other treatment records directly from the physician or health care provider who provided such treatment or health care upon written request that contains a current mailing address and upon payment of reasonable costs of duplication; provided, that no person who receives the mailing address of a parent as a result of this requirement shall provide such address to the other parent or a third person;
  6. The right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made about such parent or such parent’s family by the other parent to or in the presence of the child;
  7. The right to be given at least forty-eight (48) hours notice, whenever possible, of all extra-curricular activities, and the opportunity to participate or observe, including, but not limited to, the following:
    1. School activities;
    2. Athletic activities;
    3. Church activities; and
    4. Other activities as to which parental participation or observation would be appropriate;
  8. The right to receive from the other parent, in the event the other parent leaves the state with the minor child or children for more than two (2) days, an itinerary including telephone numbers for use in the event of an emergency; and
  9. The right of access and participation in education, including the right of access to the minor child or children for lunch and other activities, on the same basis that is provided to all parents, provided the participation or access is reasonable and does not interfere with day-to-day operations or with the child’s educational performance.

-From Section §36-6-101 of the Tennessee Code.


After making an award of custody, the court shall, upon request of the non-custodial parent, grant such rights of visitation as will enable the child and the non-custodial parent to maintain a parent-child relationship unless the court finds, after a hearing, that visitation is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health.

In granting any such rights of visitation, the court shall designate in which parent’s home each minor child shall reside on given days of the year, including provisions for holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations and other special occasions.

-From Section §36-6-301 of the Tennessee Code.

Access to Records.

A copy of a child’s medical and school records shall be furnished to the non-custodial parent upon written request, unless furnished with a court order closing the records.

-From Sections §36-6-103 and §36-6-104 of the Tennessee Code.


If a parent who is spending intervals of time with a child desires to relocate outside the state or more than 100 miles from the other parent within the state, the relocating parent shall send a notice to the other parent at the other parent’s last known address by registered or certified mail. Unless excused by the court for exigent circumstances, the notice shall be mailed not later than 60 days prior to the move.

The court shall determine whether or not to permit relocation of the child based upon the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including the factors listed in §36-6-108 of the Tennessee Code.

-From Section §36-6-108 of the Tennessee Code.


This information has been summarized from the Tennessee statutes. You can find the full-text version of these and other Tennessee divorce statutes online here: Tennessee Divorce Laws.




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