Can I modify a permanent Parenting Plan in Tennessee?

Can I modify a permanent Parenting Plan in Tennessee?

Since 2001, Tennessee has required divorcing parents to draft Parenting Plans. Parenting Plans are supposed to give parents tools to parent successfully after divorce and make children more comfortable. However, in some cases the arrangements laid out in a Parenting Plan do not work out and the parents need to change the Parenting Plan. Tennessee parents should know the standards for changing the parenting schedule in a Parenting Plan and changing the custody designation entirely.

Changing the parenting schedule

Making a change to the residential parenting schedule in a permanent Parenting Plan requires a court order. In order to modify the parenting schedule laid out in a Permanent Parenting Plan, a parent must demonstrate that there is "a material change in circumstances" necessitating the change. The law states that the parent need not show that the change in circumstances results in a "substantial risk of harm to the child." Some examples of changes in circumstances that would justify modifying the residential parenting schedule include:

  • Changes in the child's needs over time, including age-related changes
  • Changes to a parent's work schedule or living conditions that significantly impact his or her parenting abilities
  • A parent's failure to follow the Parenting Plan
  • Any other material change

Changing custody

Many consider the standard for modifying a parenting schedule relatively easy to meet. Changing a custody designation in a Parenting Plan requires a parent to meet a higher standard, even though the language is the same. The law states that a parent must show "a material change in circumstance," similar to a parent trying to modify a parenting schedule, making the Parenting Plan no longer in the child's best interest. Courts have interpreted the language in the statute to mean that a parent needs to demonstrate a more serious change in circumstances than necessary to modify the parenting schedule. Initially, the court will consider whether the change in circumstances happened after the Order for the Parenting Plan was entered, whether the parents could have reasonably foreseen the change and whether the change seriously affects the child's best interest.

If a parent makes an initial showing that there has been a material change in circumstances, the court will reexamine the statutory factors to assess whether a custody change is in the best interests of the child, including but not limited to:

  • The physical and emotional needs of the child
  • The relationship each parent has with the child
  • Each parent's capability to care for the child
  • Each parent's mental, physical and emotional health
  • Each parent's work schedule
  • The willingness of each parent to encourage a close relationship between the child and other parent

Speak with an attorney

Child custody battles can be contentious and complicated. Parents who cannot agree on a Parenting Plan often get into heated battles, and parents need to have the assistance of a skilled attorney at that time in order to successfully navigate the legal system so they can achieve their aims. If you have questions about Tennessee Parenting Plans, talk to an experienced Tennessee family law attorney who can advise you of your options.