When couples with children get divorced in Tennessee, both parents are often concerned about child custody and visitation issues. While most parents want the best for their children, the emotions surrounding a divorce can make negotiating these issues very difficult.

Unfortunately, some parents inadvertently exacerbate these tensions because they misunderstand child custody laws as well as the terms of their divorce decrees and parenting plans. Parents might, for example, attempt to interfere with the other parent’s visitation schedule for what they believe are good reasons. Conversely, a noncustodial parent may attempt to withhold child support if he or she believes that the other parent is not following a current parenting plan.

Divorced and separated parents must understand that child support obligations and visitation are not tied together in a divorce. This means that the parent paying child support is not paying for the privilege of visiting with his or her own children. While courts take child support obligation seriously, the fact that a parent is behind on payments does not mean that the other parent has the right to withhold visitation.

Similarly, a parent who is making regular child support payments does not have a right to unilaterally alter a visitation schedule or parenting plan. In addition, if the parent making payments believes that his or her visitation rights are being interfered with, it is not appropriate for that parent to withhold child support as a way of forcing the other parent to make the children available.

Failing to meet child support obligations or interfering with the other parent’s visitation or custody rights can result in severe civil and, in some cases, criminal penalties. Parents who are having difficulty making child support payments or who are concerned about protecting their custody or visitation rights may benefit from speaking with an experienced family law attorney. The lawyer may be able to request a modification to current child custody or support orders.