Harry Williams
Attorney and Counsellor at Law

Professional, Practical, Prompt
220 East King Street, Suite 110
Johnson City, TN 37601-0110
Tel 423.773.3382
Fax 423.328.8434


Custody and Child Support

In Tennessee, parents have a legal responsibility to care for their children unless otherwise ordered by a court of law. This includes married parents, divorced parents, single parents, adoptive parents, and all other parents. With the right to have children comes the responsibility of taking care of them whether you are the mother or the father. This includes a plan to care for your children and money to support them.

For information about child custody and support, contact Harry Williams at 423.773.3382 or by email at The first consultation is free. The cost of legal work after the first consultation depends on your financial situation and the complexity of the legal work. Under certain circumstances, legal work can be provided free of charge.

What is a permanent parenting plan?

A "permanent parenting plan" is a detailed written outline of how divorcing parents will care for their children. You have the right to visit your children and have the minor child's parent pay child support to help you with the

everyday expenses of being a mother or a father.

What does it mean to be the primary residential parent? 

Technically, the primary residential parent is the parent with whom the child resides more than half of the time.

How does the court decide who will be primary residential parent? 

houseEvery permanent parenting plan must include a residential schedule. The court will make sure there are residential provisions for each child, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances, which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child.

Does the primary residential parent have the right to make all decisions? 

A permanent parenting plan must allocate decision-making authority to one or both parents regarding the child's:  education, health care, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing.

Is the mother more likely to be granted primary residential parent status?

mother or father

The parenting plan law states that gender should not be considered in making these determinations. In reality, however, a mother is still more likely to be granted primary residential parent status and be awarded final decision-making authority.

Are fathers more likely to be awarded more responsibility for teenagers?

As a child's age increases, so does the father's opportunity to be designated primary residential parent, especially with teenage boys.

Does the child have any say in the choice of primary residential parent?

If the child is over 12, the court will hear and consider the child's wishes.

How important is the status quo in a court's decision?

Very important, especially where a child seems to be well adjusted.

Are siblings always kept together?

Courts want to keep siblings together.

What impact does a parent's new partner have?


If another person will come in contact with or influence the child by reason of a remarriage or similar changes in the child's or parent's living situation, and there is a basis for concern about the stability of the child's environment, the mental condition and character of that other person can become relevant in designating or modifying the primary residential parent determination.

What are the rights of the primary residential parent?

The primary residential parent has final authority to make decisions about the day-to-day care and control of the child while the child is residing with that parent, which will be most days.

What are the rights of the other parent?

The Tennessee Legislature expanded parental  rights effect July 1, 2014. The following are the rights of a parent during those times when the child is not in the care of that parent. That parent has the right to:

             Telephone. The right to unimpeded telephone conversations with the child at least twice a week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations. The parent exercising parenting time shall furnish the other parent with a telephone number where the child may be reached at the days and time specified in a parenting plan or other court order or, where days and times are not specified, at reasonable times;

             Mail.  The right to send mail to the child which the other parent shall not destroy, deface, open or censor. The parent exercising parenting time shall deliver all letters, packages and other material sent to the child by the other parent as soon as received and shall not interfere with their delivery in any way, unless otherwise provided by law or court order;

             Medical Emergencies.  The right to receive notice and relevant information as soon as practicable but within twenty-four (24) hours of any hospitalization, major illness or injury, or death of the child. The parent exercising parenting time when such event occurs shall notify the other parent of the event and shall provide all relevant healthcare providers with the contact information for the other parent;

             Education. The right to receive directly from the child's school any educational records customarily made available to parents. Upon request from one (1) parent, the parent enrolling the child in school shall provide to the other parent as soon as available each academic year the name, address, telephone number and other contact information for the school. In the case of children who are being homeschooled, the parent providing the homeschooling shall advise the other parent of this fact along with the contact information of any sponsoring entity or other entity involved in the child's education, including access to any individual student records or grades available online. The school or homeschooling entity shall be responsible, upon request, to provide to each parent records customarily made available to parents. The school may require a written request which includes a current mailing address and may further require payment of the reasonable costs of duplicating such records. These records include copies of the child's report cards, attendance records, names of teachers, class schedules, and standardized test scores;

             Medical, Health and Treatment Records. Unless otherwise provided by law, the right to receive copies of the child's medical, health or other treatment records directly from the treating physician or healthcare provider. Upon request from one (1) parent, the parent who has arranged for such treatment or health care shall provide to the other parent the name, address, telephone number and other contact information of the physician or healthcare provider. The keeper of the records may require a written request including a current mailing address and may further require payment of the reasonable costs of duplicating such records. No person who receives the mailing address of a requesting parent as a result of this requirement shall provide such address to the other parent or a third person;

             Derogatory Remarks. The right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made about such parent or such parent's family by the other parent to or in the presence of the child;

             School, Church and Other Activities. The right to be given at least forty-eight (48) hours' notice, whenever possible, of all extracurricular school, athletic, church activities and other activities as to which parental participation or observation would be appropriate, and the opportunity to participate in or observe them. The parent who has enrolled the child in each such activity shall advise the other parent of the activity and provide contact information for the person responsible for its scheduling so that the other parent may make arrangements to participate or observe whenever possible, unless otherwise provided by law or court order;

             Out of State Trips. The right to receive from the other parent, in the event the other parent leaves the state with the minor child or children for more than forty-eight (48) hours, an itinerary which shall include the planned dates of departure and return, the intended destinations and mode of travel and telephone numbers. The parent traveling with the child or children shall provide this information to the other parent so as to give that parent reasonable notice; and

             School Access. The right to access and participation in the child's education on the same bases that are provided to all parents including the right of access to the child during lunch and other school activities; provided, that the participation or access is legal and reasonable; however, access must not interfere with the school's day-to-day operations or with the child's educational schedule.

The rights above also apply to the primary residential parent when the child is spending time with the other parent.

May the primary residential parent move out of state with the child?

tennesseeIt depends on the situation. The move may not be motivated by vindictiveness and must be in the best interests of the child. Timely notice, however, must be given tot he other parent. The child shall not be permanently moved more than 50 miles without the court's permission.

May the parent remove the child from Tennessee temporarily?

Before a minor child is temporarily removed from Tennessee, the parent responsible for the removal must inform the other parent of the address and telephone number where the child may be reached during the period of temporary removal.

Can the primary residential parent designation be modified?

Yes, in certain situations. First, there must be a material change of circumstance. Second, the modification must be in the best interest of the child.

What if the child decides he or she wants to live with the other parent?

other parent

The child's preference for a change of primary residential parent will not, by itself, constitute a sufficient cause for modification. The court may well question the child's motive or inquire as to whether inducements have been made by the parent.


Will spousal abuse affect the designation of primary residential parent?

Allegations of abuse are relevant and important, but technically not controlling.

What effect does an allegation of child abuse or neglect have?

Serious mistreatment or violence against a child will constitute a change of circumstance sufficient for a parenting plan modification.

Will a primary residential parent's misconduct lead to a modification?


It depends. A moral indiscretion or legal problem alone will not suffice for a change of primary residential parent if the child is otherwise leading a normal and well-adjusted life.

Will the relative affluence of the parents affect the decision?

 As anyone would expect, the more devoted parent who sacrifices and makes time for a child will almost always prevail over a wealthy parent who values a career over the child.

What is shared parenting, and how does it work?

If parents are to share final decision-making authority and there is a dispute, the method for resolution of that dispute must be spelled out, and most likely the court will require the parents to mediate before going to court.

Is there child support if both parents share parenting responsibility?

No. In most circumstances, child support will be ordered unless the child resides with each parent a roughly equal amount of time. The primary residential parent will receive child support from the other parent.

Can a spouse be denied visitation for failing to pay child support?

No. Visitation or parenting time will not be prevented unless a court order says so.

Can a spouse stop paying child support if a spouse denies visitation?

No. Proper enforcement of visitation or parenting time rights begins with filing a petition or referring the matter to mediation.

Should a spouse fight for primary residential parent status?

Disputes over residential parenting time and final decision-making authority can be time-consuming and expensive. Be sure that you want these designations for the right reasons.