​How Domestic Violence Impacts Child Custody in Tennessee

Posted on February 12, 2016 in Child Support, Family, Divorce, Safety

Domestic violence is a very serious issue that causes lifelong trauma for victims. The state of Tennessee, like other states, considers domestic violence when making child custody and visitation rulings. Tennessee places the best interests of the child as the top priority when reviewing child custody, which means that domestic violence offenders can have their parental rights limited, or even terminated in extreme cases of abuse.

Getting Help

The most important thing to keep in mind with domestic violence is your safety and that of your child(ren). Tennessee has domestic violence advocates and support contacts setup throughout the state. Find your county's information. You can also seek help through an advocacy group, the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. 24-hour assistance is available by calling the Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-356-6767.

Domestic Violence Crosses Gender Lines

If a person has a legally reliable history of domestic violence, it can impact future court orders on child custody and visitation. A history of domestic violence can be gender neutral. There are bad people out there of both sexes, and when domestic violence occurs in the presence of children, the likelihood of it occurring during their parenting years only increases.

Order of Protection

An order of protection prohibits an abuser from engaging in violence against you or your child for up to one year. If you have a current Protection From Abuse Order (PFA) from a court against your abuser, or if your abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, then Federal law states that it is illegal for your abuser to buy or have a gun in their possession.

You MUST ASK THE JUDGE to specifically write in your order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun while the order is in effect and to require that your abuser to give any guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser's house and get them. The guns then go to either the county sheriff or court clerk of stolen property. The district attorney in the county where the gun(s) was taken away can then file to have them destroyed.

Custody and Visitation

Tennessee law prohibits any ruling that would put the child at substantial risk of harm. The court will consider the severity and proximity of abuse, with more limitations placed on more recent, more harmful, and more frequent abusers.

The judge will want both parents to have as much involvement in the child's life as possible, while protecting the child. As such, visitation with a parent found to commit child abuse may only be awarded if:

  • Supervised by a responsible adult or agency
  • The abuser completes a counseling program before visitation begins
  • Overnight visits are prohibited until a demonstrated change guarantees the safety of the child
  • The address of the child and non-abusive parent is confidential
  • Any other conditions the court thinks are necessary

The court cannot place a child in the custody of a parent who presents substantial risk of harm to the child. In cases of severe abuse, parental rights may be terminated altogether. In these cases, the decision is a permanent order.

If you have additional questions or find yourself in a legal case with domestic violence, contact me immediately to discuss your legal rights and protections.

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