Child Custody

Establishing Paternity

In Tennessee, when a child is born out of wedlock, child custody is with the mother absent a court order to the contrary. This necessarily means that if a father wishes to have court-ordered visitation, then a Petition to Establish Paternity is what needs to occur. Before a court grants court ordered visitation, then paternity must be established. This can be done in a number of ways such as the father signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity at the Hospital, both mother and father swear under oath that the father is, in fact, the father, or submit conclusive DNA testing.

Parenting Plan Modification

Permanent Parenting Plans are only permanent if neither party ever does anything to change it. If your child or children are very young when the Permanent Parenting Plan is entered, either in a divorce or in a custody action, then chances are good that you’ll need a modification at some point before they reach adulthood. Sometimes the other party is willing to work with you, and may wish to attend mediation rather than returning to court. In fact, sometimes your plan may require you to attend mediation first. If the other party won’t go, there are ways to ask the court to order the other person to go. If mediation is not a viable option, or was unsuccessful, a family law attorney can help you prepare your case and get in front of a judge to ask for the changes that you want to see, whether it’s a change in the schedule, the primary residential parent, or something as simple as tweaking the transportation arrangements. If your situation changes making the plan unworkable, or if you wish to relocate for work or a new spouse, or if the other party is simply non-compliant, call our office to discuss your potential options.

Establishing Child Support

Child support must be set by a court order. This may be done once the Child Support Division of the District Attorney’s Office has initiated an action, or child support may be set pursuant to a custody action such as a Petition to Establish a Permanent Parenting Plan or a Divorce. Child support is set according to a number of factors. An excel spreadsheet, called a child support worksheet, is used to gather the information and determine the child support obligation based upon the Child Support Guidelines of Tennessee. A court is bound to use the obligation that is the result of the child support worksheet unless the court finds that it is in the best interest of the child or children to deviate from that number. Courts rarely deviate from this number. A common assumption is that parents can negotiate the amount of child support owed. For example, Husband will allow Wife to keep the four wheelers if she agrees to waive child support, or Wife will let Husband take the living room suit if he’ll agree to not pursue child support. It doesn’t work this way. The State of Tennessee views child support as money that is paid to ensure that children do not experience a discrepancy in standards of living between parents, and to ensure that the children do not feel the financial impact of the parents maintaining separate households. If there are two parents living apart and a custody action occurs, or there is a divorce, child support will be set.

Father’s Rights

In Tennessee, when a child is born out of wedlock, custody is with the mother absent a court order to the contrary. If the Mother and Father are still together though they’re not married, then most likely they are working together to co-parent the child or children. The potential problem comes when the Mother and Father decide to separate and live apart. With no court order in place, custody is with the Mother. If the Mother chooses to not allow the Father to see the child or children, or refuses to allow as much visitation as the Father would like, then it is up to the Father to petition the appropriate court and seek to establish paternity if this has not been done, and to establish a permanent parenting plan. The permanent parenting plan would determine how the Mother and Father would co-parent the child or children in the future until that child reaches the age of 18.

Grandparents’ Rights

“I know that Grandparents don’t have rights in Tennessee.” Grandparents frequently say and believe this, but it’s not true. While the parental rights are superior to those of grandparents, the courts of Tennessee have recognized the special relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren. This can be somewhat limited however, and you should discuss the potential for success with a family law attorney.

Establishing a Parenting Plan

A Permanent Parenting Plan is a document that dictates how two parents will co-parent their child or children until they reach the age of 18. It’s a detailed document that discusses the schedule for the parties, how the children will spend their holidays, and even who will claim the children for taxes. Child support will also be set when establishing a parenting plan by using a child support worksheet based upon Tennessee’s Child Support Guidelines.  If both parties agree about what goes into the parenting plan, the process is relatively simple, and it’s extremely likely the court will approve the plan, and it becomes a court order. If the parties cannot agree on all issues, which happens frequently, the court will often order the parties to attend mediation prior to litigating. If mediation is unsuccessful, or there are still some unresolved issue, the court will make the final decision. It’s usually in parents’ best interest to  reach an agreement if at all possible, to maintain control over the way their children will be parented. Thought its usually best for the parents to come to some sort of agreement, it’s not always possible. That’s when the parties turn to the court.

Parental Relocation

There are very specific requirements in Tennessee regarding the relocation of parents. This is such a significant issue that there is an entire portion of the Permanent Parenting Plan forms that is dedicated to the correct process to go through when a parent wishes to relocate more than fifty miles from the other parent or out of the state. Parental Relocations are very fact intensive and time sensitive. Whether you are the parent that wishes to relocate, or the parent trying to contest the relocation of the other parent with your children, you should consult with a family law attorney to make sure that, as a potentially relocating parent, you meet the required criteria for providing notice, or meet the deadlines for filing opposition if you are the parent wanting to contest the relocation of your children with the other parent.

Child Support Modification

Things change. Parents get promotions. Parents get laid off. Parents may have other children with other people. Maybe daycare is no longer an expense that one party is having to pay. Any number of factors could be enough to trigger the 15% variance in the child support obligation that is needed in order for the court to grant a child support modification. A permanent parenting plan has a particular section which dictates that both parents are to exchange income information each year by a certain date. The purpose of this is to hold both parents accountable regarding child support. A family law attorney can help you determine whether you would qualify for a child support modification. Calculations must be done to determine the gross monthly income of both parties, and compliance with the visitation agreement must be taken into consideration. Child support cannot retroactively be modified prior to the filing of a Petition to Modify. Therefore, it’s extremely important that you speak to a family law attorney as soon as you believe you may be entitled to a child support modification.

Juvenile court Proceedings

The Department of Children’s Services (DCS) files actions known as Dependency and Neglect actions. These actions usually result in the emergency removal of a child or children from the parent or parents. The children are then either placed with an appropriate relative, or in a foster home. If the child enters a foster home, that means that the child is now in State’s custody. If you are a parent in need of representation to defend yourself against the allegations brought against you by DCS, or if you’re a grandparent or other interested relative that believes you should have been considered placement prior to the child being placed in foster care, a family law attorney can assist you. Those DCS is the most likely actor in removing children from the parents, it can be a private actor as well, such as a concerned family member. A family law attorney can discuss the potential of success when brining your own private action to remove a child from the home, or can help defend you in the event you find your children removed.