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Legal Information: Tennessee


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Laws current as of November 27, 2023

How can I change a custody order once it's in place?

If you are trying to change (modify) the part of the court’s order that deals with custody, you have to prove that there has been a substantial (material) change in circumstances since the order was issued. The law lays out the following examples as material changes of circumstances but there can be others as well:

If you are trying to change (modify) the part of the court’s order that deals with residential parenting schedule, you have to prove that there has been a substantial (material) change in circumstances that affects the child’s best interests since the order was issued. The law lays out the following examples as material changes of circumstances but there can be others as well:

  • significant changes in the needs of the child over time, which may include changes relating to age;
  • significant changes in the parent’s living or working condition that significantly affect parenting;
  • failure to follow the parenting plan; or
  • other circumstances that would make a change in the residential parenting time be in the best interest of the child.3

Note: To change the custody order or residential parenting schedule, you do not have to prove that there is substantial risk of harm to the child. However, if there is such a risk, this could be a reason to ask for the order to be changed.4

1 TN ST § 36-6-101(a)(2)(B)(i)
2 TN ST § 36-6-101(a)(2)(A)(v)
3 TN ST § 36-6-101(a)(2)(C)
4 TN ST § 36-6-101(a)(2)(B)(i), (a)(2)(C)

Is there anything I can do if my abusive partner continually files court proceedings against me?

Abusers often misuse court proceedings in order to continue the abuse. This is called an “abusive civil action” and the abuser would be considered an “abusive civil action plaintiff.” If you are dealing with an abusive civil action, you can ask the judge to issue an order dismissing the case and putting pre-filing restrictions on the abuser. See our Litigation Abuse section for more information on how to do this.

What steps must I take if I want to relocate? What type of notice is required?

After custody or co-parenting has been established in a permanent parenting plan or a final custody order, there are some steps that you need to take if you want to relocate. A relocation for these purposes means either moving out of the state or staying within the state but moving more than 50 miles from the other parent. The steps you must take are as follows:

  1. At least 60 days before the planned move, you need to send a notice to the other parent at his/her last known address by registered or certified mail. The judge can waive this requirement, however, if there are emergency circumstances. The notice must contain the following:
    • a statement that you plan to move;
    • the location of your new home;
    • the reasons for your proposed relocation; and
    • a statement that explains that if the other parent doesn’t object within 30 days of the date notice is mailed, or if the parents don’t come to an agreement, the law will allow the relocation.1
  2. It’s possible that once the other parent receives the notice, the two of you may agree upon a new visitation schedule or the other parent may file an objection. If neither happens within 30 days after you send the notice, you need to file a petition asking the court to approve the relocation. Then, the non-relocating parent has 30 days to file a response in opposition to the petition.
  3. If the non-relocating parent doesn’t file a response in opposition to your petition within 30 days of when you file the petition, then you and your child will be allowed to relocate.

1 TN ST § 36-6-108(a)
2 TN ST § 36-6-108(b)

What happens if the other parent files a petition to oppose the relocation? How will the judge make a decision?

If the other parent files a petition in opposition to your relocation petition, it will be up to the judge to decide if the relocation is in the best interests of you child.1 The judge will consider the following factors:

  • the nature, quality, level of involvement, and length of time of the child’s relationship with the parent proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating parent, siblings, and other significant people in the child’s life;
  • the age, developmental stage, needs of the child, and the impact that the relocation will likely have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;
  • how possible it will be to keep up the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through an appropriate visitation arrangement, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties – and if the relocation is granted, it’s possible the judge could change the child support amount to account for the increased transportation costs;
  • whether the relocating parent has an established pattern of either encouraging or discouraging the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent;
  • whether the relocation of the child will improve the general quality of life for both the relocating parent and the child, including, but not limited to, any financial or emotional benefits or educational opportunity;
  • the reasons that the relocating parent wants to relocate;
  • the reasons that the non-relocating parent has for opposing the relocation;
  • any other factor affecting the best interests of the child, including the best interest factors that are considered in a regular custody determination; and
  • the child’s wishes. Note: If the child is twelve years of age or older, the judge must consider the child’s wishes. If the child is under twelve, the judge could listen to the child’s wishes if either parent requests it. The wishes of older children will usually influence the judge more than those of younger children.2

At the conclusion of the case, the judge has the power to order one parent to pay the other parent’s reasonable attorney fees and other litigation expenses related to the relocation court proceeding if the judge believes it is appropriate to do so.3

1 TN ST § 36-6-108(c)(1)
2 TN ST § 36-6-108(c)(2), (d)
3 TN ST § 36-6-108(f)

If I move to a new state, can I transfer my child custody case there?

After a final custody order is issued, there may come a time when you and your children move to a different state. For information about how to request to transfer the custody case to a new state, please go to the Transferring a custody case to a different state section in our general Custody page. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you may likely first need to get permission from the court or from the other parent to move your children out of state. Please talk to a lawyer to make sure your plans to move don’t violate your custody order or your state’s parental kidnapping laws.