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In 2001, the Tennessee legislature adopted the use of “Parenting Plans” in lieu of “custody.”  Tennessee now uses a standardized Parenting Plan form which must be filed with any divorce with minor children, or with parenting matters if the parents were never married.

The Parenting Plan Form can be found at https://www.tncourts.gov/node/253. The Plan covers all issues relating to the custody of minor children, including the number of days per year each parent enjoys with the child, who gets the child on each holiday and during breaks from school, child support, and which parent receives the income tax credit for the child. Additionally, Plans include the important designation of the “Primary Residential Parent.”  Although the form states it is a “Permanent Parenting Plan,” it is possible to modify the plan as the child’s needs and the respective parent’s situations change as the child gets older. It is not uncommon for parents to modify a Parenting Plan several times before the child reaches the age of 18.

To modify an existing Parenting Plan, the Parent seeking the modification must file a Petition to Modify with the court that approved the original Plan. If the parents cannot agree to a modified Plan, they must participate in mediation prior to seeking the court’s intervention. If the differences cannot be resolved through mediation, a trial on the Petition to Modify will be held. The court will then determine  (1) whether a change has occurred after the entry of the order sought to be modified; (2) whether a change was not known or reasonably anticipated when the order was entered; and (3) whether a change is one that affects the child’s well-being in a meaningful way.  If the court determines that a material change in circumstances has occurred, the trial court must determine whether modification of custody is in the best interest of the child using the factors listed in Tenn. Code Ann. § 360-6-106. Establishing a new Parenting Plan or modifying an existing plan can be a challenging process. It is always best to consult with an experienced Tennessee Family Law attorney in order to make sure your rights, as well as the child’s are protected to the fullest extent.