An Uncontested, Stress-Free Divorce in Tennessee

Tennessee law allows a process for divorce that significantly reduces the emotional burden and the expense of protracted litigation. You do not have to have an attorney to file for divorce. However, proceed with caution if you are filing without legal representation. Make sure you do not agree to something you will later regret.

Here is a quick overview of the process of an uncontested divorce.

Who Qualifies for Uncontested Divorce?

Not everyone qualifies for Tennessee’s streamlined uncontested divorce procedure. Both you and your husband or wife must meet the following requirements:

  • You both lived in the state for the last six months
  • You have no minor children born of the marriage
  • Both of you agree to dissolve your marriage
  • You own no business or real estate together and have no retirement accounts
  • You have reached a full personal property settlement agreement

If any single one of the above requirements is not met, you do not qualify for Tennessee’s uncontested divorce procedure. If you do not qualify but still want an affordable, painless divorce, we have 3 divorce services designed specifically for you.

If you and your spouse meet all of the listed requirements, you can begin the filing process. Before you do, be sure to read How To Get An Agreed Divorce In Tennessee. This form was put together by the state to educate people the procedure.

Starting the Process

The divorce case is filed in the county that you live in. If you have already separated, and you live in separate counties, you can bring the action in either county. The following completed forms must be filed to begin the divorce process:

  • The divorce petition
  • Spousal personal information form
  • Personal property settlement agreement
  • Health insurance notice
  • Divorce hearing notice

Some counties might require additional paperwork pursuant to local rules. Be sure to check with your county’s court clerk to be sure of exactly what forms are needed. You can either print all necessary forms off of the internet, or you can go to your local court clerk’s offices to pick up an uncontested divorce form package. Any additional forms that might be required in your county will likely be in that package.

How Long Does It Take?

There will be a minimum of 60 days between date of filing and date of hearing. The court clerk in your county will schedule you for the first available date. He or she wants your divorce finalized too.

Do I Have To Go To The Divorce Hearing?

The presiding judge might have questions for both of you, so both parties should be present at the divorce hearing. If your paperwork is in order on your hearing date, you could be divorced that day. On the other hand, you might leave the hearing still married. The divorce does not become final until the judge signs off on your decree.

Parents’ Guide To Cyberbullying and the Law

What Is Cyberbullying

Bullying has always been an unfortunate part of the adolescent experience. Although discouraged by parents and teachers, most of us probably have memories of being intimidated by schoolyard bullies. However, in the old days, kids left their bullies behind when they left school for the day. But today, thanks to the internet and social media, many kids sadly take bullying home with them when they leave the school grounds.

Online bullying – or, as it has come to be known, cyberbullying – can often take a more vicious edge than the schoolyard taunts of yore. Once a group has identified a peer who they deem worthy of their vitriol, they will frequently be relentless, going so far as to create Facebook groups and entire pages devoted to harassing and mocking their chosen victim.

In some instances cyberbullying escalates to terrible levels, well beyond the bounds of anything that can be written off as “kids will be kids” behavior, and becomes a criminal offense. Over 90% of teens on social media have witnessed someone being mean to someone else on social media, and over 21% of teens check in on social media just to see if anyone has said anything mean about them. This infographic from rawhide.org shows a number of shocking statistics about cyberbullying.

In case you find your son or daughter faced with this situation, here are a few things you should know about cyberbullying and the law.

Cyberbullying Laws Vary State By State

Dealing with internet crime is still very new for legislators. While many states were slow to include electronic harassment in their definition of bullying, approximately 50% of states now include language in their bullying laws that make cyberbullying a crime. If your child is being cyberbullied, familiarize yourself with the laws of your state.

School Administrators Might Claim No Responsibility

Sadly, many school administrators will claim that they are not responsible if your child is being bullied. This is because they claim that the bullying is happened online and that the internet is off school grounds. If the administration refuses to step in and help, then you have no choice but to circumvent them and contact an attorney.

A Lawyer Can Help You Through The Process

Making a harassment case should always be done with the aid of a competent attorney. Your lawyer will be able to help you to document instances of abuse and advise you on how to file a police report. If the cyberbullying is very severe, your attorney will aid you in seeking protection orders on behalf of your child against the offender(s).

Standing Your Ground Is Crucial

If your child is being bullied, standing your ground and taking legal action is absolutely the best course of action. Many bullies are enabled by parents who fail to discipline them and a lack of a fear of consequences for their actions. Seeking an attorney and taking legal action demonstrates that the bully’s behavior will not be tolerated and that serious consequences are a possibility.

No parents want to see their child tormented. This is why it is essential that you seek legal representation if a group of kids are making your child’s life unhappy or causing him or her to feel unsafe. Follow the proper legal channels and take a stand against cyberbullying.

7 Ways to Save Money During a Divorce

Getting a divorce is expensive. I’m sure you have heard horror stories. We all have. As a divorce lawyer, I can tell you that unfortunately, those stories come true more often than you’d like to think. However, there is good news: you can follow a few simple steps to save money during a divorce.

Manage Spending During Divorce Process

Reduce Attorney Fees

Yes, getting a divorce costs money – there is no way around that – but you do not have to spend an arm and a leg on lawyer fees. It might seem crazy for me, a divorce attorney, to encourage you to spend less with your lawyer, but that’s exactly why I offer affordable, set pricing for 3 of the most common kinds of divorce.

If you are paying by the hour, reduce costs by preparing yourself before consulting with your lawyer. Just having your documents and questions in order will put you ahead of the curve.

Do Not Indulge in Emotional Shopping

Times of high stress and high emotion often lead people to binge shop. Some people are encouraged to spend all they can during the divorce, especially if they have access to joint bank accounts or credit cards. The reality is that spending sprees will leave you with less at the end and may come back to bite you when assets are being divvied up.

Fight for Your Assets (And Recognize That No One Wins)

Forget About Emotional Entitlement

Along with emotional spending, another strong emotional reaction during a divorce is emotional entitlement. Be careful not to give up too much when fighting for one prized possession. You can always buy new things.

You will both walk away feeling like you’ve lost something important

The reality of divorce is that it comes down to compromise, and you will both feel like you have lost something. You may want to fight for the iTunes collection that you painstakingly curated over the years, but if the collection is worth $400 and it costs you $1,000 in legal fees and compromises to fight for it, then it is time to walk away.

Do Not Leave Anything on the Table

While you need to know when to walk away from a costly fight over a possession, you also need to fight for your entire half. Assets and debts are equally shared in marriage. Sometimes one party will feel obligated to take less than their share during the divorce out of sympathy or guilt. While it might seem like the charitable thing to do in the short-term, in the long run, leaving money on the table often seems foolish.

Plan for Post-Divorce Costs

Assets with High Maintenance

If you got the house in the divorce, you may have won the biggest battle. However, maintaining a house comes with its own costs. As you consider your post-divorce life, do not forget to account for things like real estate taxes, insurance, and general home repair and maintenance. It adds up quickly.

Plan for Taxes

Consult an accountant or financial advisor if you have one about the tax implications of your divorce. You do not want to get hit with an unexpected, large bill from the IRS.

Going through a divorce is difficult enough without overspending on the process. Keep these tips in mind to help stay on track and on budget. If you need professional advice, contact my office to setup an initial consultation.

How Domestic Violence Impacts Child Custody in Tennessee

Domestic violence is a very serious issue that causes lifelong trauma for victims. The state of Tennessee, like other states, considers domestic violence when making child custody and visitation rulings. Tennessee places the best interests of the child as the top priority when reviewing child custody, which means that domestic violence offenders can have their parental rights limited, or even terminated in extreme cases of abuse.

Getting Help

The most important thing to keep in mind with domestic violence is your safety and that of your child(ren). Tennessee has domestic violence advocates and support contacts setup throughout the state. Find your county’s information. You can also seek help through an advocacy group, the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. 24-hour assistance is available by calling the Tennessee Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-356-6767.

Domestic Violence Crosses Gender Lines

If a person has a legally reliable history of domestic violence, it can impact future court orders on child custody and visitation. A history of domestic violence can be gender neutral. There are bad people out there of both sexes, and when domestic violence occurs in the presence of children, the likelihood of it occurring during their parenting years only increases.

Order of Protection

An order of protection prohibits an abuser from engaging in violence against you or your child for up to one year. If you have a current Protection From Abuse Order (PFA) from a court against your abuser, or if your abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, then Federal law states that it is illegal for your abuser to buy or have a gun in their possession.

You MUST ASK THE JUDGE to specifically write in your order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun while the order is in effect and to require that your abuser to give any guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser’s house and get them. The guns then go to either the county sheriff or court clerk of stolen property. The district attorney in the county where the gun(s) was taken away can then file to have them destroyed.

Custody and Visitation

Tennessee law prohibits any ruling that would put the child at substantial risk of harm. The court will consider the severity and proximity of abuse, with more limitations placed on more recent, more harmful, and more frequent abusers.

The judge will want both parents to have as much involvement in the child’s life as possible, while protecting the child. As such, visitation with a parent found to commit child abuse may only be awarded if:

  • Supervised by a responsible adult or agency
  • The abuser completes a counseling program before visitation begins
  • Overnight visits are prohibited until a demonstrated change guarantees the safety of the child
  • The address of the child and non-abusive parent is confidential
  • Any other conditions the court thinks are necessary

The court cannot place a child in the custody of a parent who presents substantial risk of harm to the child. In cases of severe abuse, parental rights may be terminated altogether. In these cases, the decision is a permanent order.

If you have additional questions or find yourself in a legal case with domestic violence, contact me immediately to discuss your legal rights and protections.

How to Talk to Small Children About Divorce

When two people decide to get a divorce, they often think about the impact the process will have on their small children. After all, divorce drastically alters the daily routines of any family. If you are going through a divorce, you may be trying to find ways to carefully share this information with your small children. It is understandable that you want to present the information in a manner that leaves your children feeling secure and loved.

There are many effective ways for you to help your children adjust to your divorce. Here is a guideline that will help you talk to your small children about divorce.

Toddlers

During this stage, young children develop meaning about the world around them. They learn to count on the consistency of familiar routines. Divorce changes these routines. As a result, toddlers may become insecure. It is essential that you maintain a sense of structure for your toddler children. Discuss their feelings about the separation. Reassure your children that they did not cause the separation.

Preschool Children

As children progress through this stage, they feel as if they have a sense of control over their environment. This control provides them with security and confidence. Divorce challenges this level of certainty. Children will resist the separation at all costs. As you prepare your preschool age children for your divorce, provide an environment in which it is safe to share their feelings. Children in this age group need as much support and structure as toddlers.

School Age Children

In this age group, children will have strong feelings about divorce. They may unite with one parent, and blame another. Another thing they will do is exhibit behavior problems because they are angry. It is important for you to patiently guide your children through any anger or abandonment issues that may be a consequence of your divorce. Let your children know that you or your spouse will not abandon them. Provide them with ample opportunities to discuss their feelings without being judged or criticized.

In the beginning of the process, your children will have to overcome negative feelings and sadness. By providing your children with the proper tools to handle your divorce, you can help them successfully adjust to their new way of life.

Tips For Bonding With Your Stepchild

Being a stepparent is often equal parts rewarding and challenging, particularly when it comes to establishing the initial bond with children in a newly blended family. By taking the time to get to know each child individually, and respecting personal boundaries and emotional needs, beautiful relationships can grow and thrive.

The following are a set of helpful tips to aid any stepparent seeking to nurture a healthy bond with the children in their blended family.

Plan Quality Time

One excellent way to bond with your stepchild is to plan a solo outing. This may seem intimidating at first, but it is a necessary step in building a quality relationship.

Here are some factors to bear in mind:

  • Include an activity you can both enjoy, but do not force any more intimacy than the child is comfortable with.
  • Do not attempt to bribe the child. This will set up an unhealthy dynamic where you will be expected to cater to every whim.
  • Make conversation, but do not force the parental role. Allow the child to lead any discussion and be comfortable with silence if necessary.
  • Be prepared to engage in regular outings. Relationships take time to build, and you will need to be patient while the child adjusts to your presence. Trust will build over time.

Alternative Approaches

If your stepchild is not comfortable with going on outings or spending quality time together, it may be a matter of getting to know each other better in a comfortable setting. The best way to break this barrier to intimacy is to go straight through it. Do not feel rejected if the child refuses your attempts at communication and bonding. Keep trying to engage the child while respecting his or her personal space. The idea is to make the child feel welcome, appreciated and included — whether that child chooses to participate in activities or not.

Boundary Testing

Children will test boundaries. This is normal behavior, and it is especially true for a stepchild who wants to see how far they can push you. Practice patience, but do not be afraid to assert yourself and your opinions of any inappropriate behavior. By presenting a united front with the biological parent, the child will come to accept the new situation and show more respect to the person whom mom or dad has chosen as their new life partner.

Blending families is a slow process that pays big rewards. Patience and understanding create the foundation of strong emotional bonds between parents and stepchildren.

Avoiding The Guilt Traps Of Divorced Parents

Divorce is a difficult and trying life event, which can have a negative emotional impact on the couple splitting, as well as and, most importantly, their children. Although there may be no specific set of guidelines for divorced parents to follow, they can avoid a number of pitfalls that could make an already tough situation worse.

Avoid Being Unaccommodating

This is particularly true in the case of the parent who is moving out of the family house. An important part of helping your children through the divorce process is providing them with as comfortable and as stable of a living environment as possible.

If it is you who is moving into a new residence, it is critical to choose a place where your children will feel “at home.” Make sure they will have a room to sleep in. In addition, do not turn the place into a bachelor/bachelorette pad. Decorate the new place with items from the old house and be sure to hang pictures of your children on the walls or place on desks. If you are remaining in the family home, do not rush to pack away anything your ex might have left behind and avoid rearranging furniture or doing any major redecorating for a while.

Do Not Speak Ill Of Your Former Spouse

When you speak badly about your ex, past hurt is rehashed, which places your children in the middle of a delicate situation. The split has been hard enough on them as it is. It is unfair to place yet another emotional burden on their shoulders. It is more advisable to hold your ex in the highest light possible. Highlight his or her personal and professional accomplishments and always insist your children show him or her the same level of respect you would want them to display to you.

Do Not Date Until The Divorce Is Official

Wait until one facet of your life is complete before delving into another one. Dating prematurely can confuse your children and give them more emotional burdens than they are yet prepared to handle. It is recommended you use the time until the divorce is finalized as an opportunity to let your children adjust to what will be a new life and circumstances.

Do Not Forget About Your Kids

Include your children in your new life. Invite them to your new place, call them frequently and attend their athletic and scholastic events.

Do Not Spoil Your Children

There is no shame in providing your kids what they need and purchasing gifts when and where appropriate, but it can be deleterious to spoil them. Children are smart and can see through this tactic; drawing the conclusion you are trying to “buy them off” to assuage your guilt over what happened.

When in doubt, consult with a professional divorce attorney who can assist you in avoiding the typical pitfalls of divorce – and help you make a smooth transition into your new lifestyle.

What Does “Conscious Uncoupling” Mean During Divorce?

In 2014, actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced that she and her husband of ten years were in the process of “conscious uncoupling” of their marriage. Few at the time understood what was meant by the phrase, causing some to search for an answer. An article in the Wall Street Journal determined a New Zealand therapist first used the phrase in 2006 in a research paper. Three years later, Katherine Woodward Thomas, a US marriage therapist, used the phrase when discussing the value of a cooperative separation.

The Meaning of Conscious Uncoupling

There is no precise definition of the term, but (according to Thomas) it implies the goal of ending the relationship in a positive, cooperative and respectful manner. Rather than concentrating on the negative, when consciously uncoupling, the parties strive to complete the relationship with mutual respect and accentuate the positive aspects of the past.

The Legal Effect of Conscious Uncoupling in Divorce

In short, if parties choose to consciously uncouple, it has no legal effect on the marriage. It will not terminate the marriage, divide property, allocate liabilities, or provide for the care and custody of minor children. To terminate the marriage, parties must still undergo a divorce proceeding. Parties can also, in most states, enter into a legal separation, where a court will divide property, award custody of minor children, order child support and determine who is responsible for marital debts.

The Practical Effect of Conscious Uncoupling in Divorce

It is in this area where the parties will benefit the most from the concept of conscious uncoupling. It is universally accepted that divorce can be an extremely traumatic event in the lives of the couples, and this can be especially true of parties with minor children. In addition, prolonged and acrimonious divorce proceedings can add an enormous cost to the proceedings and prevent the parties from turning a corner in their lives.

Techniques or exercises to strive for cooperation between the parties will lessen costs, and mitigate the emotional impact of the proceedings. Courts are extremely receptive to divorce agreements, mediation, arbitration and informal settlement of disputes. The area of alternative dispute resolution is one of the growing areas of law in the past 20 years or so.

In some ways, the concept of conscious uncoupling isn’t new. For many years, the phrases “amicable divorce” and “uncontested divorce” have been present in most states. But if new method of looking at a similar goal is successful, the parties benefit, the court system benefits, and society as a whole benefits.

How to Blend A Modern Family

In today’s modern world, more and more families are becoming blended. A blended family occurs when two separate families come together to form one stepfamily. As you can imagine, a blended family possesses its own unique set of challenges.

When two families come together, each brings its own history and ways of operating as a family unit. The way the families previously functioned will need to evolve to accommodate the new arrangement, but never fear — you can create a long-lasting, happy and healthy relationship as a new family.

Challenges

It’s important to keep in mind, as within any family, there are challenges to merging two families into one.

They often include:

  • Stress on parents balancing their children’s needs
  • Social etiquette difficulties
  • Conflicting family responsibilities and values with regards to appropriate behavior, daily chores and other expectations
  • Conflicting roles of family members (this occurs mostly when the children are of different ages)

Fortunately, there are a number of solutions that have proven to help in overcoming these challenges:

Positive Attitude

Begin with realistic expectations and a positive attitude. Accept that you will experience challenges and frustrations, as all parents do. Surveys of remarried couples with children show parenting blended children is often the main reason for conflict within the marriage. The good news is that willingness to work together, and take the right steps to understand the needs of the children and how to provide them through structured co-parenting, will result in a supportive and loving blended family.

Parenting Plan

You will need to come up with a parenting plan that takes into account your new spouse and stepchildren. In a blended family, the parenting that worked for you in the past may not be as effective.

Since the new family involves individuals who have not lived together, a new set of rules has to be created to accommodate the changing family dynamic. It’s important to set boundaries, but remember to have compassion for your children as rules shift.

Empathy, Communication, and Respect

For this to work, communication is key. Even though you cannot force blended families to love each other, you can make successful strides toward constructive behavior and respect. Talk to your children if they are of an age where they understand the changes are occurring. Help them understand what is happening and be firm in your decisions. It is important all parties feel heard and loved as these big changes happen.

One-On-One Time

Prioritize one-on-one time. Being together as a blended family is great, but you do not have to spend all your time together. In most cases, spending some time apart is helpful and allows space to process the changes.

Each family needs one-on-one time without step-relatives, particularly so children feel they are still valued and loved by their parent. Mixing how each family spends time with each other strengthens the bonds in the stepfamily, and the blend does not have to happen over night. Take the time to evolve together, and do not feel you have to rush it.

Bringing two families together through marriage can present a variety of challenges. When two families come together and learn to truly respect and love one another well, it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.