12th Feb 2014

Who is the primary residential parent?

The primary residential parent refers to the parent that the child stays with for more than six months in a year. This means that for the better part of the year, the child stays with this parent except for special events, holidays and weekends. For most people, the day to day control and care of the child will be made by the parent residing with the child at that very moment. Since most parenting decisions involve the day to day lives of children, determining who will be the primary residential parent is very important.


How is the primary residential parent determined? 

All permanent parenting plans should include a residential schedule. Laws provide that each child should have residential provisions in line with the development level of the child and the socio-economic status of the family. As a result, a primary residential parent should be stable, loving and should be able to nurture a good relationship with the child. There are very many factors that the courts consider when determining who will be the primary residential parent.


Is the primary residential parent tasked with making all the decisions? 

No. A good parenting plan should always allocate the rights to make decisions to either one parent or both. Such decisions include the child’s health care, education, religious upbringing and extracurricular activities.


Does the mother stand higher chances of being determined as the primary residential parent?

According to Tennessee laws, gender should not be the determining factor when making such determinations. However, in reality, most often mothers are granted this responsibility and are usually determined to be the final decision makers. This is not biasness, but it’s because practically, mothers are good at performing these parental duties. Most mothers have more time that they can dedicate to the child.


Do fathers stand higher chances of being awarded the responsibility of teenagers?

As the age of the child increases, so does the probability of the father being determined as the primary residential parent, especially with boys in teenage years. Courts usually consider the fact that teenagers require male nurturing as opposed to care giving often associated with mothers.


Does the child’s choice have any impact on who the primary residential parent will be? 

Yes. If the child is aged 12 and above, the court will take into consideration the wishes of the child. However, courts will only consider such wishes if the child was not coached or coerced. This is because choosing between two parents might put the kids in a position of guilt that could seriously affect the child.


Does the court consider the status quo in making decisions? 

When making decisions, the status quo is very important to the courts, especially if the child seems to be adjusting and living well. Courts will rarely disrupt a good situation while trying to favor the unknown. All factors kept constant, the Court will be most concerned with maintaining the stability of the child.


Must siblings always be kept together?

No. Courts will generally want to keep the family union by having siblings stay together. However, custody of siblings may be split between parents if there is a reasonable, practical and compelling reason. In the event that both parents agree to split the custody of siblings, the Permanent Parenting Plan must provide that the children spend the holidays and vacations together, and oftentimes weekends.


What is the impact of the introduction of a new parent?

If someone else will positively influence the child or come in contact with him or her through marriage or other arrangements, this is acceptable. However, if there is a concern over the stability of the environment of the child, character and mental condition due to the presence of the new parent, this presence can be rejected. A new parent will, therefore, only be allowed to interact with the child if they will not have a negative impact on the child.


What rights does the primary residential parent have?

The primary residential parent has the authority to make decisions in the day to day life events of the child. The parent can control the activities of the child, though this authority maybe shared with the other parent because the authority of one parent is never absolute. If one parent does not agree with the decisions that the other parent makes, he or she can initiate mediation or litigation that will address the challenged decisions.


What happens when one parent is suspected of neglecting or abusing the child?

Serious violence or mistreatment against the child might lead to the changing of the entire parenting plan. In such a situations, the court will distinguish abuse from discipline, and will require proof that the child was neglected or mistreated. The court may require a trained professional to determine if this allegation is true or not.


How does shared parenting work?

If both parents are to share the authority to make final decisions, and then a dispute arises, the parenting plan should often spell out how the dispute will be resolved. The parents will therefore be required to mediate before they seek court help. By splitting parenting and eliminating terms such as visitations and custody from parenting plans, the new parenting law hopes to do away with custody wars by encouraging co-parenting.


What about if both parents are sharing parenting responsibility

In the event that both parents share equal parental responsibility, there will still be an order of child support. The only way that no child support will be ordered is if both parents have equal parenting time, make the same gross monthly income and have zero or equal health care and daycare expenses for the child. The odds of these events realistically occurring are little-to-none.


If a parent fails to pay child support, can he or she be denied visitation?

No. parenting time or visitation will not be denied, unless the court says so. Failing to pay child support should never be used as a ground for terminating parenting time and visitation rights. Other options of collecting child support exist, such as filing a petition that seeks to hold the non-paying parent in contempt of court.


If one parent denies visitation, should the other stop paying child support?

No. proper enforcement of parenting or visitation time rights usually begins with referring the matter to mediation or filing a petition. If the primary residential parent persistently denies the other parent visitation, the court could change who the primary residential parent is.