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Legal Information: Tennessee


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Laws current as of November 27, 2023

Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

The judge is supposed to take into account a parent’s history of physical or emotional abuse towards you, the child, or anyone else when making a custody decision. However, the best interests of the child and other factors will also be considered, and the abusive parent may still receive custody rights.1 If a parent has been convicted of any criminal sexual offense listed here against a minor, the judge will assume that the parent should not get custody.2 Also, if a parent is under indictment for aggravated child abuse, child sexual abuse, or severe child sexual abuse, s/he cannot get any sort of custody while the criminal case is pending unless s/he can prove to the judge that s/he does not present a substantial risk of harm to the child.3

Visitation may be awarded to a parent who has committed violence unless, after a hearing, the judge finds that visitation is likely to endanger the child’s physical or emotional health. If the judge determines that the non-custodial parent has physically or emotionally abused the child, the judge can require that visitation be supervised or that visitation is not allowed until such abuse has stopped or until there is no reasonable likelihood that such abuse will happen again.4 If the judge determines that the parent has committed child abuse or child sexual abuse, the judge can only award visitation under circumstances that guarantee the safety of the child. For example, the judge can order:

  • all visits must be supervised by a responsible adult or agency;
  • the abusive parent must go to counseling;
  • there can be no overnight visits;
  • the child’s address be kept confidential; and
  • anything else to keep the child safe.5

If a parent has been convicted of any criminal sexual offense listed here against a minor, the parent can only get supervised visitation if s/he is granted visitation at all.6

If a parent has willfully abandoned the child for 18 months or more, the parent’s residential time should be limited and s/he will likely be granted only limited visitation with the child. The term “willful abandonment” includes a situation where the parent substantially refuses to perform parenting responsibilities.7

1 TN ST § 36-6-106(a)(11)
2 TN ST § 36-6-101(a)(2)(A)(ii)
3 TN ST §§ 36-6-101(a)(2)(A)(v); 36-6-112(c)(2)
4 TN ST § 36-6-301
5 TN ST § 36-6-107(b)
6 TN ST § 36-6-101(a)(2)(A)(ii), (a)(2)(A)(iii)
7 TN ST §§ 36-6-406(a)(1); 36-6-101(a)(2)(A)(iv)