Nashville Attorney Lisa Ewing


The hardest part of many divorces is often figuring out child custody issues. Parents love their children and want to maintain relationships with their children. When parents cannot figure out a way to divide their children’s time, the court has to step in and decide. Parents in Tennessee should be aware of the different types of custody and how Tennessee courts make child custody decisions.

Legal and Physical Custody

There are two different types of child custody in Tennessee. Physical custody refers to where a child lives and the daily care of a child. In Tennessee, the court may award either parent sole physical custody, or grant joint physical custody. When parents have joint physical custody, the child splits time between each parent. However, joint custody does not mean equal time with each parent. The child may only spend some weekends and holidays with one parent, for example.

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to be involved in making major decisions about his or her child’s life in such areas as education, religious training, health care and extracurricular activities. A parent may retain legal custody of a child even if the parent does not have physical custody. Tennessee courts have the option of awarding parents “joint conservatorships,” where parents share legal custody but only one parent has physical custody. A joint conservatorship may also exist where only one parent has legal custody but both have physical custody, or when parents share legal and physical custody.

Parents who maintain legal custody of their children, even if they do not have physical custody, ensure that they remain involved in the upbringing of their children. Custodial parents still need to consult with the non-custodial parents when they share legal custody before making any major changes in the child’s life.

Tennessee Child Custody Factors

Tennessee courts make custody decisions with the best interests of the child in mind. When determining a child’s best interests, the court considers a number of factors, including:

  • The emotional ties between each parent and the child
  • Each parent’s parenting abilities and willingness to encourage a close relationship between the child and the other parent
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school and community
  • The mental and physical health of each parent
  • The child’s preference, if over 12 years old
  • The character of those who frequently interact with the child
  • Any allegations of abuse

Talk to a Lawyer

Child custody matters are often emotionally-charged issues, and can seem overwhelming to parents. Parents should not try to handle such affairs alone. If you have questions about child custody, seek the assistance of a skilled child custody attorney who can help advise you of your options.