Do fathers have fewer rights than mothers in Tennessee?

No. In Tennessee and other states, fathers and mothers have the same legal rights when it comes to the care, custody and control of their children. That said, a lot of men feel like they are second-class citizens in the family courts. They often feel that judges simply assume that the mother should get more time caring for the children and see fathers primarily as a source of child support.

There is little actual data to confirm or deny that such bias exists in our courts, but the anecdotal complaints are common. Therefore, if you’re a Tennessee father who is going through a divorce or custody case, you should hire an attorney who will take your concerns seriously.

What does Tennessee law say?

There are two forms of custody in Tennessee: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the parent’s right to make important decisions about the child’s life, such as about education, religion or medical care. Physical custody is the parent’s right to care for the child on a day-to-day basis.

There is no overall presumption that the parents should share either legal or physical custody. This is to give the courts the widest possible range of custody options to choose from. However, if the parents agree that custody should be shared, there is a legal presumption that the court should order that. Also, most experts agree that it is usually in the best interest of children to maintain strong relationships with both parents.

The ultimate custody decision is always to be made in the best interest of the child or children. When determining what is in a child’s best interests, the court will consider a variety of factors, including:

  • If the child is mature enough, the child’s preferences
  • The stability of their current home, school and community and whether a change would be disruptive
  • The child’s ability to adjust to a new school, home and community
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs for food, shelter, education, religious training and health care
  • Each parent’s parenting skills and willingness to foster a continuing relationship with the child’s other parent
  • Any history of domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect or substance abuse
  • The mental and physical health of the parties
  • Each parent’s willingness to comply with new custody arrangements or visitation schedules
  • Other testimony about what is in the best interest of the child

Additionally, Tennessee law restricts custody for people accused or convicted of certain criminal offenses, including rape resulting in a child and crimes against children, and of people who have willfully abandoned their children for a period of 18 months or longer.

Concerns of the fathers’ rights movement

The fathers’ rights movement started in the 1960s and 1970s when the American divorce rate began to rise substantially. Many men felt that courts presumed that it was in the best interest of children for their mothers to have primary physical custody. Indeed, the term “visitation” in the law has been challenged in many states because it seems to imply that one parent’s parenting time is fundamental while the other’s is more temporary and passing in nature.

Advocates for fathers’ rights often argue that many fathers who want to spend substantial time raising their children are actively prevented from doing so by limitations on parenting time.

If you have any concerns that you might not be treated fairly in family or divorce court, be sure to discuss them with an attorney who is familiar with the fathers’ rights movement.