Shared parenting: Report on state custody laws gives TN low grade

A report from the National Parents Organization indicates that Tennessee laws offer very limited support for equal parenting arrangements.

Shared parenting, which is often touted for the benefits it offers children, is becoming a common divorce outcome in many states. During divorces involving children, Tennessee law requires family law judges to find the arrangement that is best for the children, but the law does not presume shared parenting is this arrangement. A new report suggests that the state's laws do not adequately support shared parenting, which may have detrimental effects on both parents and children.

A 'D' for shared parenting laws

According to The Tennessean, the National Parents Organization recently released its 2014 Shared Parenting Report Card. The report evaluated various factors to determine whether a state's laws encouraged parental equality and shared parenting. Tennessee received a D, based on the following aspects of its laws:

  • The laws do not order or promote shared parenting during temporary or final custody arrangements.
  • The laws do not show any support for shared parenting through direct policies or language.
  • The state only assumes shared parenting is in the child's best interest if both parents support the arrangement.

The report noted that state laws do protect some rights of non-custodial parents, such as contacting the child and receiving certain records. State laws also support relationships between children and both parents by requiring family law judges to consider which parent is more likely to support the child's ongoing relationship with the other parent. Still, overall, the report found that the state's laws are not favorable to shared parenting arrangements.

Past efforts to support shared parenting

During previous years, Tennessee legislators have considered enacting laws that would explicitly support more equal parenting arrangements, according to USA Today. For instance, in 2010, one bill sought to establish a presumption that equal custody is in the best interests of the child, with an exception for cases involving abuse. To support an unequal division of custody, a family law court would have to offer clear evidence of one parent's lack of fitness.

Proponents contended that this change would ensure that fathers were not deprived of parental rights and that children had the opportunity to develop strong relationships with both parents. However, critics expressed concerns about this change creating difficult schedules for children, especially young ones; making divorces more contentious; and leaving mothers and children in danger in cases involving abuse.

Finding the optimal arrangement

Shared parenting may not be the ideal arrangement for every situation. Still, when it is appropriate, shared parenting can offer benefits for children as well as their parents. The results of the recent shared parenting report suggest that divorcing parents who want to stay as involved in their children's lives as possible should not simply expect the divorce settlement to produce a reasonable shared parenting plan. Instead, these parents should take active steps to protect their rights, either by collaborating to reach a child custody arrangement or by seeking legal representation.

Anyone preparing for a divorce in Tennessee should consult with an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible for advice on protecting personal rights while working toward a favorable settlement.

Keywords: divorce, custody, visitation, child