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How is child custody determined?

If you’re in the midst of a divorce, you’ve likely heard the phrase “best interests of the child”. “Best interest” applies to child custody decisions and the factors a court will consider to reach the best possible outcome for a child and family.

A child custody decision can be one of the most contentious aspects of a divorce. The courts take a considerable amount of time and care in a child custody decision, as the health, welfare and safety of a child will be the primary concern.

Factors to be considered

Parents are encouraged to reach a decision about custody on their own, but if they aren’t able to agree, a court will make a decision on their behalf. In Tennessee, a judge needs to clarify in writing the reasons behind the custody decision and how the decision is in a child’s best interest. A judge has wide discretion in their decision, but will consider a number of factors:

  • Mental and physical health of the child and parents
  • Relationship between the child and parent
  • Wishes of the child (if over age 12)
  • Wishes of the parents
  • Ability of each parent to care for the child and meet basic needs
  • Child’s home and school records
  • History of abuse in the home

After considering these factors and determining what’s best for a child, a judge can award physical or legal custody to one or both parents. Physical custody refers to where the children will reside, and legal custody refers to which parent is making the decisions – education, religion, medical and the like – for the children.

A great deal of care will be given to the decision and the court will do everything possible to ensure that a child’s best interests are respected and honored.

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