Lawyers' Questions

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Parenting Plan

Must I prepare a Parenting Plan for all divorces with children?

Yes. “Any final decree or decree of modification in an action for absolute divorce, legal separation, annulment, or separate maintenance involving a minor child shall incorporate a permanent parenting plan.” T.C.A. § 36-6-404(a).

What about those cases filed before the January 1, 2001, start date of the legislation?

Whether a Parenting Plan is required for those divorce actions filed before January 1, 2000, depends on your Judicial District. Most districts have opted to require Parenting Plans for the “pipeline” cases, but even there, the courts are using their discretion. Check with the Clerk of the Court for specific cases.

Is a Parenting Plan needed for those divorces that result in default judgments?

Yes, a Permanent Parenting Plan is required for all divorces entered after January 1, 2001. “Any final decree or decree of modification in an action for absolute divorce, legal separation, annulment, or separate maintenance involving a minor child shall incorporate a Permanent Parenting Plan.” T.C.A. § 36-6-404(a).

How much detail is needed to complete the Parenting Plan? Is it sufficient to provide for “reasonable visitation” or that “the Parties will agree amongst themselves?”

No. Some judicial districts will not approve Plans which contain such language. The Parenting Plan forms make it possible for a lawyer or a parent to easily and quickly produce a detailed and workable Parenting Plan. Such detailed Plans are expected to be much less likely to precipitate post-divorce actions arising from a “misunderstanding” of the original Plan. In addition, detailed Plans allow the parents to quickly answer most questions that may come up as time passes and the memories fade of what each person meant during the formation of the Plan. The parties can always agree to deviate from the schedule, but the Plan is the schedule. Remember that flexibility may be built into a Plan by allowing a reasonable means of modifying the Plan.

Is it necessary for the Parenting Plan to be typed out or is it possible to submit a Plan with the blanks filled in by hand?

Hand written Plans are acceptable. In fact, most Courts are asking that the Parenting Plans be submitted without changing the arrangement of the Plan. In this way, the Court will always know what is covered on each particular page of each Plan submitted.

Will a TRO be granted prior to my client being sent to mediation or a pre-trial conference?

Generally, not if it affects parental responsibility or parenting time, but the local rules will determine the specifics of the procedure in each Court.

How should I, as an attorney, get the other parent to participate in preparing the Plan if he or she has no attorney?

The easiest way is to wait for the other parent to attend the Parenting Education Seminar where he or she will be given a chance to go over the Parenting Plan form in detail. After that, the parent should willingly participate with your client in the preparation of a Plan. Also, the unrepresented party can be referred to one of the Regional Coordinators for help in locating proper counsel for filling out a Parenting Plan form.

Is the Parenting Plan a document separate from the MDA? If it is, how do I reference the Parenting Plan in the MDA?

The Parenting Plan can either stand on its own and be referred to in the final Order granting the divorce or it may be attached to the MDA and referred to in the MDA (for example: “The parenting of the children is agreed to according to the certain Parenting Plan, dated dd-mm-yy, attached as Exhibit A hereto and is hereby incorporated in full by reference into this MDA.”).

Must there be a court appearance on an ID divorce?

The requirement for court appearances is unchanged by the law; if an appearance was not required prior to the adoption of the Parenting Plan Law, then no appearance is required now. Check with your Local Rules if you are unsure.

Is it necessary to submit a proposed Permanent Parenting Plan in advance of a contested divorce hearing?

Yes. “If 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). Check with your Local Rules for the filing requirements of your court.

After the divorce decree, how can my client modify a Parenting Plan, if there is no emergency? If there is an emergency?

If there is no emergency, the Parenting Plan itself specifies a method of modifying the Plan. Generally, the Plan is modified by mediation, arbitration, or counseling as set forth in the original Parenting Plan approved by the Court and incorporated into the divorce order. If there is no agreement, “a proposed plan shall be filed and served with the petition for modification and with the response to the petition for modification.” T.C.A. § 36-6-405(a). In the event of an emergency, the parent desiring to modify the Permanent Parenting Plan files a petition and the proposed Parenting Plan with the Court. The other parent files his or her proposed Parenting Plan with the response to the petition for modification. T.C.A. § 36-6-405(a).


Are the parents in a post-divorce case required to attend the Parenting Education Seminar?

Yes. “In an action where a permanent parenting plan is or will be entered each parent shall attend a parent education seminar as soon as possible after the filing of the complaint. The requirement of attendance at such a seminar may be waived upon motion by either party and the agreement of the court upon showing of good cause for such relief.” T.C.A. § 36-6-408(a).

How does my client find out about the available Parenting Education Seminars in his or her area?

The Clerk of the Court will have brochures or other literature from the approved Parenting Education Seminar providers available for your client.

How does my client know whether the Court where the divorce is filed certifies a particular Parenting Education Seminar?

The Clerk of the Court will have a list of Court approved providers.

Is it necessary for my client to make reservations to get into the Seminar?

That will depend on the Seminar provider. Some of the Seminars may prove to be so popular that it may be necessary to make a reservation. Others may allow drop-ins. Your client will need to check with the individual providers in your area.

How much do these Seminars cost?

Again, that will depend on the Seminar provider. The law contemplates “reasonable” costs (see T.C.A. § 36-6-408(b)).

What happens if my client cannot afford to pay for the Seminar?

Some of the providers may offer “sliding-scale” fees for the Seminar. Under such a scale, the parent would pay a reduced fee on the basis of his or her income. Also, the fees for the Seminar “may be waived for indigent persons.” T.C.A. § 36-6-408(b).

What happens if the other parent does not attend the Seminar? Will the Court prevent the parents from getting a divorce if one of the parents does not attend the ordered Seminar?

“No court shall deny the granting of a divorce from the bonds of matrimony for failure of a party or both parties to attend the educational session.” T.C.A. § 36-6-408(c). However, if a party does not attend the required Seminar the Court may hold them in contempt and must consider that factor when determining the division of parenting time and decision-making. T.C.A. § 36-6-404(b)(4).

If my client is in family counseling or in family therapy, can that replace the Parenting Education Seminar?

No. The Seminar is meant to provide a broad education to 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.” T.C.A. § 36-6-408(a). Many of these topics are not covered in family counseling or therapy.


Is mediation required in all cases where there are disputes about the Parenting Plan?

Unless a Local Rule requires it, no. Mediation is optional for the resolution of Parenting Plan disputes.

When can the Court make the parties mediate?

Under Supreme Court Rule 31, the Court can make the parties mediate on its own or upon motion by one of the parties. T.C.A. § 36-6-404(c)(2).

Must the Parenting Plan have a method of future dispute resolution designated?

Yes, unless mediation is precluded or limited by factors set out in § 36-6-406. T.C.A. § 36-6-404(a)(4).

What kinds of dispute resolution are available for inclusion in the Parenting Plan?

Usually, the parents select mediation, arbitration, or counseling. However, there is nothing that would prevent the parents from designating any other means of dispute resolution specified in Supreme Court Rule 31 or approved by the trial court. The parents could, for example, agree that a family member or minister to resolve disputes between the parties.

Is the use of an alternative dispute resolution process always necessary prior to filing a post-divorce petition (relating to a divorce granted under the Parenting Plan statute)? What if there are allegations of domestic violence or an Order of Protection?

Generally, yes. However, if there is a finding of domestic violence or an Order of Protection, the victim does not need to go to the designated alternative dispute resolution process prior to filing a post-divorce petition. T.C.A. § 36-6-409(d). “If an order of protection issued in or recognized by this state is in effect or if there is a court finding of domestic abuse or criminal conviction involving domestic abuse within the marriage which is the subject of the proceeding for divorce or separate support and maintenance, the court may order mediation or refer the parties to mediation only if: (1) Mediation is agreed to by the victim of the alleged domestic or family violence;(2) Mediation is provided by a certified mediator who is trained in domestic and family violence in a specialized manner that protects the safety of the victim; and (3) The victim is permitted to have in attendance at mediation a supporting person of the victim's choice, including, but not limited to, an attorney or advocate. No victim may provide monetary compensation to a non-attorney advocate for attendance at mediation. The other party may also have in attendance at mediation a supporting person of such party's choice, including, but not limited to, an attorney or advocate.” T.C.A. § 36-6-409(e).

If one of the parents does not pay the court ordered child support after the divorce, must the other parent go to mediation prior to filing a Petition for Contempt?

What if the Petition for Contempt alleges other parenting issues in addition to non-payment of child support?

When a petition for contempt has been filed, the child support issues go to the Court for disposition. However, the other issues relating to the Parenting Plan should use the dispute resolution process which should have been specified in the Permanent Parenting Plan agreed to by the parents and incorporated into the divorce decree by the Court.