Helping Parents Navigate Disputes Involving Child Custody, Visitation And Child Support

For most parents, nothing is more important than the well-being of their children, which is probably one reason why legal disputes involving kids are often so challenging, not to mention emotional.

At the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC, we understand that child custody disputes and other related legal matters are often difficult to deal with, especially if you do not have experienced legal guidance by your side. Fortunately, we are here to help. 

No matter the circumstances, we will carefully evaluate the facts of your child custody case and explain your legal options in terms you can understand. We want you to have the information you need to make informed legal decisions ― decisions that are right for you and your family. Let us use our experience to help you get the results you want and your family needs. 

Child Custody, Visitation And So Much More

Whether you are going through a divorce or have never been married, we can assist you with a wide range of child-related family law issues under both Tennessee and Mississippi law, including: 

  • Establishing child custody, visitation and parenting plans
  • Changes and/or modifications to child custody arrangements, including disputes involving proposed parental relocations with children
  • Paternity disputes, including the establishment of parentage for the purposes of child support or child custody
  • Child support calculations and modifications to child support orders

However, these are merely few of the many areas in which we have a great deal of experience. Contact us today and speak with one of our attorneys to learn more. 

Family Law Representation You Can Trust In Your Time Of Need

Don't trust your case with just any lawyer. After all, you want a law firm that has the knowledge and experience to get the job done ― one that focuses solely on family law, and nothing else. In other words, you want the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC.

Contact our office in Germantown to schedule your consultation today. You can call us at 901-537-0010, or email us online. Since we are licensed in both Tennessee and Mississippi, we serve clients throughout the Memphis area and North Mississippi.


Common Child Custody Issues

establishing child custody

Establishing Child Custody In Tennessee

Are you involved in a child custody dispute? If so, the dedicated lawyers at the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC, are here to help.

Unlike many other firms, we practice family law, and family law alone. Given this focus, you can count on us to always be up to date on the most recent family law issues and legislation, including those related to child custody and support. 

Factors Used When Determining Child Custody

Tennessee law expressly recognizes that most children do best when both parents are involved in their lives, and as such, relationships between a child and both of his or her parents should be fostered following divorce ― unless, of course, such actions are not in the best interests of the child, which is the primary concern during any child custody dispute.

While parents are free to work together and try to decide which custody arrangement is in their child's best interests ― often through mediation ― if they are unable to do so, the court may have to make the decision for them. When establishing child custody, a court will review several factors, including: 

  • The past and current relationship between the child and each parent, including the existing love and emotional ties as well as whether one parent has primarily performed most parenting responsibilities in the past
  • The ability of each parent to provide the child with the necessities, including clothing, food and medical care
  • The ability of each parent to raise the child, including his or her moral, mental and physical fitness
  • The past and potential future performance of parenting obligations, including whether each parent will promote and encourage a meaningful relationship between the child and other parent
  • The needs of the child, including emotional needs
  • The home, school and community life of the child, as well as the importance of continuing a stable environment
  • The child's relationship with other siblings and other family members
  • The child's preference, but only if he or she is 12-years-old or older
  • Any evidence of emotional or physical abuse

After reviewing these and any other relevant factors, a court will outline a custody arrangement, including the parents' decision-making authority and residential/custody schedule, in a written plan otherwise referred to as a permanent parenting plan

While the law and factors discussed above are specific to Tennessee law, custody determinations in Mississippi involve many similar legal principles. To learn more about child custody disputes under either Tennessee or Mississippi law, contact the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC.

what is a parenting plan?

The Importance Of Parenting Plans

If you are ever involved in a child custody dispute in Tennessee, you may find yourself wondering, "Exactly, what is a parenting plan?" 

In simple terms, a permanent parenting plan is a written plan that outlines your parental responsibilities, decision-making authority and residential schedule with your child. If you are going through a divorce, legal separation or annulment and children are involved, your final decree must incorporate a parenting plan. 

What Is In A Parenting Plan?

Under Tennessee law, a parenting plan will:

  • Establish a residential schedule, which is essentially a schedule of when a child will be living with each parent on any given day, including weekends, school vacations, holidays, birthdays and other special events. The schedule must also designate a primary residential parent, which is the parent the child lives with for more than 50 percent of the time. 
  • Establish parental responsibilities, including decision-making authority related to the child's religion, education, health care and extracurricular activities. In most cases, both parents can make day-to-day decisions regarding the child's well-being while the child is living with him or her or otherwise under his or her care.
  • Establish procedures for resolving parental disputes.
  • Outline child support obligations, if awarded. 

If you and your child's other parent are unable to reach an agreement regarding a parenting plan, you will likely have to first attempt to mediate your dispute before the court will hear your case. 

However, once the court is involved, its primary concern when determining a parenting plan and custody arrangement is the child's best interests. It may examine many factors when coming to its decision, including the existing relationship between the child and his or her parents, the relative ability of the parents as well as the child's preference, but typically only if the child is 12-years-old or older. 

While the information above pertains solely to Tennessee law, we can also help if your custody dispute involves Mississippi law. Contact the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC, today if you have questions.

modifying child custody and visitation

Can I Modify Child Custody And Visitation In Tennessee?

The short answer is yes, you can change a child custody arrangement under Tennessee law ― but only in certain situations. 

For instance, a court will only grant a modification to child custody if you can first show a material change in circumstances that impacts the child and that no one could have reasonably anticipated at the time of the initial custody order. Some examples may include when: 

  • One parent fails to adhere to a parenting plan or custody order established during divorce proceedings
  • One parent vindictively attempts to relocate with a child outside of the state
  • One parent is abusing the child
  • The primary residential parent remarries an individual who may have a negative impact on the child, including someone previously convicted of domestic violence

However, even if you can show a sufficient change in circumstances, the court will still have to compare which custodial arrangement is in the child's best interests ― meaning it will review many of the same factors used when establishing custody in general. 

What About Visitation, Can That Be Changed?

Importantly, even if your change in circumstances does not justify a change in custody, you may still be able to ask the court to modify your residential parenting time or visitation schedule. 

While a modification to a residential parenting schedule also requires a material change in circumstances, the requirements are significantly different and substantially lower than the requirements for a custody modification. In fact, if you can simply show that the current parenting plan is unworkable or the child wants a change, it may be enough to justify a modification to parenting time. 

However, navigating these various laws and understanding the differences between custody modifications and parenting schedule modifications can be complex, which is why it is best to consult with an experienced lawyer.

child support

Calculating Child Support

In Tennessee, child support is largely based on a set of predetermined Child Support Guidelines that are used to calculate payments using a child support worksheet. Importantly, these same guidelines apply regardless of whether the child's parents are seeking a divorce or if the child was born out of wedlock. 

Since both parents are responsible for the financial support of their child under Tennessee law, the guidelines calculate child support based on the combined income of the parents, as well as the number of days each parent has parenting time with the child. In fact, the guidelines consider all sources of income for both parents, including salaries, bonuses, overtime pay, severance pay, pensions or retirement plans and income from trusts or annuities. 

By comparison, child support calculations in Mississippi do not take into account the income of the recipient spouse. Instead, courts determine child support based on a percentage of the payor's income only.

Who Primarily Pays Child Support

In most cases in Tennessee, the custodial parent ― also known as the primary residential parent ― will receive support payments from the noncustodial parent ― or alternate residential parent. This is primarily due to the assumption that the custodial parent is already spending significant amounts of money since he or she is caring for the child most of the time. 

While the court will typically order the child support calculations established using the guidelines and child support worksheet, it can deviate from this amount and make certain adjustments, but only in very limited situations. In addition, a court can order a modification to an existing child support order when the circumstances warrant such a move. However, navigating these various laws can be difficult, especially if you do not have the assistance of an attorney.

Seeking Child Support Modifications

Just because a court has ordered child support payments does not mean the court can never change its mind as to the amount ― especially if circumstances change. In fact, child support is expressly modifiable under both Tennessee and Mississippi law, but only in certain situations.

If you have questions about changing child support obligations in Tennessee or Mississippi, the dedicated attorneys and legal professionals at the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC, are here to help. We focus only on family law and strive to provide each client with personalized, one-on-one attention. Do not trust your case to another firm.

Can Child Support Ever Be Modified?

A Tennessee court can modify child support payments if you can show that a significant variance exists. Generally, Tennessee law defines a significant variance as a 15 percent or greater difference between the amount of the original child support calculation and the amount if calculated today using current income levels. 

For instance, if a parent experiences a significant change in income ― either up or down ― a change in child support is possible. In many cases, this occurs when a parent gets a promotion or, alternatively, loses his or her job. However, a modification to child support may also be warranted if the custody arrangement or parenting time has drastically changed since the court first ordered support. 

Similarly, child support is also modifiable in Mississippi, although the laws are not necessarily the same as in Tennessee. To learn more, it is best to contact experienced legal representation.

Wondering If You Can Change Your Child Support Payments? We Can Help.

Child support modifications are not always as easy as they seem, so we encourage you to consult with one of our lawyers regarding these and other related issues. You can reach us online or by calling 901-537-0100. While our office is located in Germantown, we help family law clients throughout the surrounding areas, including Memphis and North Mississippi.

child support modifications

paternity disputes

Helping Parents Establish Parentage And Navigate Paternity Disputes

Paternity disputes are often challenging and emotionally charged legal issues. Fortunately, the dedicated lawyers at the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC, can help. Whether you are a financially strapped mother in need of child support or a father wishing to establish custody rights, we can help explain your legal options and guide you through this complex process. 

How Is Paternity Determined In Tennessee?

If a child is born to a married woman, Tennessee law automatically presumes that her husband is the child's father ― meaning his name will be on the birth certificate. 

However, if the parents are not married at the time of birth, there are two primary ways to establish paternity:

  • Voluntary acknowledgement of paternity: When the mother and father agree on paternity, they can sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, which they often complete at the hospital. This acknowledgement is then sent to the office of vital records and the father's name is placed on the birth certificate. One important thing to remember is that a man only has 60 days to dispute or rescind a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity after signing, which can cause many issues down the road if the man discovers he is not the child's father. 
  • Court order: If an unwed mother and father cannot agree on paternity, either of them can file a petition with the court to establish parentage. These disputes are often resolved using DNA or genetic testing. 

As mentioned earlier, there are many important reasons to establish paternity under Tennessee law. For instance, in many cases a woman will have to first establish paternity before the court will order the father make child support payments. Similarly, a father's right to custody or visitation is dependent on him being the child's legal father.

child relocation

Navigating Child Relocation: The Basics

If you or your ex-spouse wishes to move away or relocate with your child, it is important to be aware of the many legal restrictions and requirements that a court will examine when determining whether or not to allow such a move.

If you have questions about parental and/or child relocation, and wish to speak to an experienced family law attorney, contact the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC. While our office is located in Germantown, just outside of Memphis, our lawyers can help you with both Tennessee and Mississippi law. Email us online, or call us at 901-537-0010 for help today. 

Understanding Parental Relocation In Tennessee And Mississippi

If a parent wishes to move outside of Tennessee or more than 50 miles from the other parent, he or she is required under Tennessee law to send written notice of a proposed move to the non relocating parent. This notice, which the relocating parent must send by certified or registered mail at least 60 days before the proposed move, should include the reasons for the move, the anticipated new residence as well as a statement informing the other parent has 30 days to file an opposing petition to the move. If the non relocating parent does not object within this 30-day window, he or she may not be able to later.

If the parents are unable to agree on a new visitation or custody arrangement, the court may do it for them. However, the test applied by the court largely depends on whether the child spends equal time with both parents.

For instance, if the parents spend substantially equal intervals of time with the child, and the non relocating parent objects to the move, the court will decide whether to permit the child's relocation based upon the child's best interests. When assessing the best interests of a child, a court will review any relevant factor, including those used when initially determining child custody. 

Alternatively, if the parents do not spend substantially equal time with the child, and it is the custodial parent who wishes to move with the child, he or she must still get the court's permission to relocate if the other parent objects to the proposed move. However, Tennessee courts will permit a relocation under these circumstances, unless:

  • There is no reasonable purpose for the move
  • The move poses a specific threat of serious harm to the child, which outweighs the possible harm of a custody change
  • The reason for the proposed move is simply to hinder the visitation or custodial rights of the noncustodial parent

If one of these circumstances exists, the court will examine whether or not the move is in the child's best interests.

Conversely, Mississippi law does not contain an established process for child relocations. In fact, in many cases, the only way to stop a move is to seek a change in custody. Therefore, if you are the custodial parent, you can typically move with a child if you want, although there is a Chancery Court rule that says you need to notify the Clerk of the Court of your new address within five days after your move.

For Child Custody, Visitation & Support, or any other related legal matter, the attorneys at the Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC, are here to help. Unlike many other firms, we only practice family law, so you can count on us to know what we are doing.

Contact our Germantown office today by calling 901-537-0010, or reach out to us online.

We help families throughout the Memphis area and North Mississippi.