Click the links below to jump to the FAQs about a particular topic.
The parties or their attorneys fill out the Parenting Plan. If the parties cannot agree to the terms of a Permanent or Temporary Parenting Plan, each parent files his or her own Plan with the Court and will, usually go on to mediation to resolve the differences.
Tennessee Code Annotated §36-6-404 requires that a parenting plan form shall be used consistently by each court within the state that approves parenting plans pursuant to §36-6-403 or §36-6-404”. The form is to be used on and after July 1, 2005.
You or your lawyer can fill out the Parenting Plan. You may wish to have your lawyer help you (or your lawyer may wish to have you help him or her) fill out the details of the Plan.
You can fill out the Plan by yourself and submit it to the Court for approval. If you and your spouse are in mediation, the mediator may help the two of you decide how to fill out the Plan once you have reached agreements on parts of the Plan.
You can use a mediator (on your own initiative or by order of the Court) to help you reach an agreement with your spouse. If mediation does not work, the Court will hold a hearing and will determine and order a Parenting Plan for you in the best interests of your children.
If you and your spouse agree on the Parenting Plan submitted to the Court, then you do not need to file a Plan of your own. If you do not agree with all of the parts of the Plan submitted by your spouse, then you should file your own Plan. With respect to a Temporary Parenting Plan, the new law requires that “each party shall submit a proposed temporary parenting plan and a verified statement of income as defined by title 36, chapter 5, and a verified statement that the plan is proposed in good faith and is in the best interest of the child.” T.C.A. § 36-6-403(a)(2). With respect to a Permanent Parenting Plan, the law requires that “[i]f the parties have not reached agreement on a permanent parenting plan on or before forty-five (45) days before the date set for trial, each party shall file and serve a proposed permanent parenting plan, even though the parties may continue to mediate or negotiate. Failure to comply by a party may result in the court's adoption of the plan filed by the opposing party if the court finds such plan to be in the best interests of the child.” T.C.A. § 36-6-404(c)(3).
The Local Rules of the Court determine the specifics of when to file your Parenting Plan. In general, (but, maybe, not always; check with the Local Rules for your Court) you will have filed your proposed Temporary Plan on time if you file your Plan with the divorce Complaint (if you are the plaintiff), Petition (if you are the Petitioner), Response (if you are the respondent), or Answer (if you are the defendant). The proposed Permanent Parenting Plan is generally filed prior to 45 days before the date set for the trial. T.C.A. § 36-6-404(c)(3).
The Parenting Plan is filed with the Clerk of the Court. The Clerk will then enter the Plan into the case file for the Judge or Chancellor to look over.
The Parenting Education Seminar is a class or series of classes that give parents the information necessary to deal with their children and with each other during and after the divorce process. These seminars are meant to help the divorcing family through the traumas of divorce without putting more stress on the parties and their children.
What is taught in the Seminar?
The Parenting Plan Law requires (at a minimum) that the Seminars “educate parents concerning how to protect and enhance the child’s emotional development and informing the parents regarding the legal process. The seminar shall also include a discussion of alternative dispute resolution, marriage counseling, the judicial process, and common perpetrator attitudes and conduct involving domestic violence.” Parenting Education Seminars may also cover other topics related to divorce and its effect on a family.
How long is the Seminar?
The Parenting Plan Law requires a minimum of four hours of classroom time, but some Courts may require more time. Each individual Court decides the length of the required Parenting Education Seminar. Depending on the total amount of time required, the Seminar may be given in more than one session.
How much does this Seminar cost?
There is no set cost for the Seminar. In some judicial districts there will be a number of different seminar providers for a parent to choose from. Each of these providers will have their own fee schedule and some may offer a sliding scale based on the income of the parent.
What if I can’t afford to pay for the Seminar?
Upon proof of indigence by a parent, the Court may be able to waive the costs. In the alternative, the costs may be assessed as court costs.
Do I have to go to this Seminar with my spouse or ex-spouse? Do the children attend the Seminar?
Normally, both parents do not attend the same Seminar. In areas where there are few Seminars, one parent may be able to attend a Seminar in an adjoining county or judicial district in order to meet the requirement of attending the Seminar. The minor children do not attend the Seminar, however, there may be specific other programs available for your children about how a divorce will change their lives.
What happens if I don’t (or my spouse doesn’t) attend the Parenting Education Seminar?
In a contested divorce, the Court must consider whether a parent attended the required seminar when determining whether there should be any limitations on parenting time or decision-making. T.C.A. § 36-6-404(b)(4). The Court cannot prevent a divorce decree from issuing solely on the basis of the parents not attending the Seminar, but a parent who does not attend the Seminar within the time specified by the Court runs the risk of Contempt of Court. A parent who does not complete the required Seminar may be held in Contempt even if the divorce decree has issued. Contempt of Court may involve a jail sentence.
Where are these Seminars held?
The local Court Clerk will give you brochures or other materials from Seminar providers in your area. These materials will have information such as times and locations of the Seminars and the costs of the Seminars. You will need to contact the provider of your choice to set up attendance at the next available Seminar.
The University of Tennessee Extension Office offers Seminars in 65 counties across the State. You can access a county's extension web site by going to the UT Extension website and clicking on the “Local Offices” link in the top left column. This will bring up a state map. Click on the county location. This will take you to the county web page for the local UT Extension office information.
If I am in family counseling or therapy, does that count as a Parenting Education Seminar?
No. The emphasis of most family counseling or family therapy is different than the emphasis of the Parenting Education Seminars. Therefore, family counseling and therapy cannot replace the Seminar.
What is mediation?
Mediation helps people decide, on their own, the best solutions to issues for themselves. Mediators help parents talk to each other to find new ways to resolve their issues. Mediators are neutral; they do not favor either side; they do not give legal advice; and, they do not decide the dispute. The parents, together, resolve their differences in a fair, open, and confidential way.
Is a mediation session confidential? Doesn’t the mediator have to file something with the Court? Does the mediator tell the Court what went on in the mediation sessions?
Unlike Court proceedings, the mediation is confidential. The mediator only files reports with the Court stating that a mediation session occurred and whether or not any agreements were made between the parties. The mediator cannot tell the Court (or anyone else, for that matter) what went on in the mediation sessions. However, the mediator is required by law to report certain actions or threats of actions (such as child abuse) to the appropriate authorities.
How do I choose a mediator?
A: In general, you choose your mediator from a list provided by the Court Clerk. Each of the mediators on the list received training in mediating family disputes and several of the mediators received specialized training in mediating cases where there is the presence or threat of domestic violence. If domestic violence is present in your family, you need to tell the Court. The victims of domestic violence are not required to go to mediation, but if they go, victims have certain rights in the mediation. Your lawyer or a local victims’ rights organization will have details.
How much does mediation cost?
The cost of mediation varies with location, but generally court ordered mediation costs about $50 per hour to be divided by the couple.
What if I can’t afford to pay for mediation?
Free (pro bono) mediation is available for those couples that are able to meet the indigence requirement of the Court. The Court Clerk will give you the information necessary to contact the pro bono mediator. For those parents who do not meet the indigence requirement but do not have enough income to pay full fees for a mediator, the Court may, upon motion by one or both of the parties, order the mediation to occur at a reduced fee to one or both parties. Also, some mediators (but not all) offer a “sliding scale” fee that is based on the income of the couple. The less a couple has in income, the lower the fee. You will need to talk to your mediator about payment for the mediation.
Do I have to go to mediation?
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you are not required to go to mediation. Also, if you can show the Court that you have a good reason for not attending mediation, then you may not be required to go. If the Court orders mediation, the parties are required to attend mediation.
What happens if I don’t have a good reason and I don’t go to mediation?
The Court may hold you in Contempt if you do not attend an ordered mediation without good reason that is approved by the Court. Also, the Court may use your absence from mediation as a factor in determining final form of the Permanent Parenting Plan.
Will the mediation deal only with parenting issues?
Usually, no. In most orders for mediation, the Court allows the parties and the mediator to try to resolve the other issues after agreeing to a Parenting Plan. The other issues may include such things as who gets the house, who gets what from which retirement plan, and so forth.
If my spouse and I reach an agreement, who does the paperwork?
If the parties have attorneys, then the attorneys prepare the paperwork necessary for filing with the Court. If there are no attorneys, the mediator may prepare a “Memorandum of Understanding” for the parties to sign. This Memorandum shows that the parties have agreed to certain things in their divorce and they expect those things to be made a part of their divorce decree. If there are no attorneys involved in the divorce, it is recommended that the parties have an attorney look over the Memorandum to make sure that all of the areas that need to be covered are covered.
If you don’t have an attorney, you should go over a copy of a Parenting Plan with the mediator and your spouse to make sure that you have covered everything. If you both agree on everything in the Plan, then you must reduce that Plan to a formal Order and that Order must be submitted to the Court for approval.
What if my spouse and I reach an agreement about some of the issues but not about all of them?
You can submit a partial Parenting Plan with a notation where there is disagreement. The parts of the Parenting Plan that have been agreed to will usually be incorporated into the final Permanent Parenting Plan by the Court and the areas of disagreement will be decided by the Court. There may be a Settlement Conference scheduled to try to resolve the remaining issues or the Court itself may decide the issues at trial.
Do I have to go to mediation if I am the victim of domestic abuse?
No, victims of domestic violence are not required to attend mediation. However, if you wish to go to mediation, certain steps must be followed: (1) you must agree to the mediation; (2) you have the right to have an advocate (another person who is not your attorney) present during the mediation; and, (3) you have the right to have a mediator specially trained in domestic violence. In addition, your attorney will be able to attend the mediations.