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I've put the question of child custody in TN into three separate categories: 1. Divorcing parents. 2. Unmarried parents. 3. Third parties requesting custody to protect a child.

  1. Divorcing parents. Divorcing parents in Tennessee are required to set up a Permanent Parenting Plan which sets a specific parenting schedule and also designates the Primary Residential Parent which is defined as the parent who spends the majority of time with the child.

  2. Unmarried parents. Unmarried parents are not required to undergo this process, but I would advise all unmarried parents to do so. The Court will set a Parenting Schedule which reflects the best interests of the child. Parties are often able to agree upon a schedule, but the Court will set a schedule after a hearing if the parties are unable to agree. Setting a parenting schedule will often help to alleviate uncertainty in each parent's day to day schedule with the child.

  3. Third parties requesting custody to protect a child. If a child is determined to be "dependant and neglected" under the law, non parents can request custody of the child. A detailed definition of dependency and neglect can be found in T.C.A. 37-1-102; however, the overarching question is whether a child is subject to abuse or neglect in the parent's care.

What are/are there differences between these protocols in TN and those in GA?

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In the first two cases, the substantive law which establishes a "best interests of the child" standard for both married and unmarried parents, and resolves jurisdictional issues under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (state law) and the Parental Kidnapping Protection Act (federal law) (plus another law regarding Indian children that doesn't come up much in either state), is for all practical purposes identical legally.

The procedural differences are likewise very subtle (e.g. document formatting, filing deadlines).

The differences in how individual judges (often on the very same courts in the very same counties) exercise their discretion in particular cases are vastly bigger than the legal and procedural differences, and are frequently outcome determinative, because the applicable legal standard vests virtually unlimited discretion in the judge.

The procedural differences in the third situation of emergency intervention are bigger, but the substantive law there is likewise virtually identical. Again, in this kind of case, the differences between how different judges in the same county would handle the case would be bigger than the differences between TN and GA.

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