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.

Does An Affair Cost More In Divorce In Tennessee?

Affairs can destroy a marriage, and when it comes to divorce, they can really complicate the matter. In the state of Tennessee, adultery can be grounds for a divorce in and of itself. If you and/or your spouse are considering a divorce and an affair is a contributing factor, it’s imperative to understand how adultery can affect and impact the process.

Divorce on the Grounds of Infidelity

As previously mentioned, Tennessee recognizes adultery as a sole grounds for divorce, meaning that a judge can officially end a marriage if a spouse is able to prove that adultery took place. It’s important to know, however, that allegations are not enough; one must definitively prove that the affair occurred.

Division of Property

In most cases, even if an affair is proven, it will not affect the division of the property. Tennessee is a state that follows the rules of equitable distribution, which means that all marital assets are divided fairly. The judge will consider the needs of each spouse and the contributions he or she made to the marriage. Depending on the state, however, usually one cannot factor adultery into the division of property.

The one exception is if it is proven that one spouse used joint funds in order to support the adultery. In cases like these, the court may subtract this amount from the portion allotted to the partner in question.

Alimony

While property division is typically not impacted by adultery, the same cannot be said for alimony, or spousal support. The purpose of alimony is to ensure that the spouses are able to maintain their lifestyle after the divorce is finalized. Like property division, the court will consider the needs of the spouses and their ability to hold a job and earn their living.

While alimony is never used as a means to punish a spouse, it is possible that, in cases where it is determined that the offended spouse was so devastated as to make working harder or impossible, the judge may choose to increase the required alimony.

Defense After Adultery

While an affair can complicate the divorce process, it is not necessarily true that adultery will automatically lead the judge to dissolve the marriage. There are three possible defenses that a Tennessee resident can use in order to mitigate the damages following adultery. This includes:

  • Recrimination: in cases where both spouses had an affair, neither can use this as grounds for divorce.
  • Connivance: adultery cannot be used as grounds for divorce if the “wronged” spouse took part in encouraging the affair.
  • Condonation: reconciliation in which the wronged spouse forgives and reconciles with the unfaithful partner; if the wronged spouse claims adultery later on, the court can dismiss it.

​The Rules of Criminal Procedure in Tennessee

Criminal prosecution is the process of bringing an individual to trial for violating a criminal law. Once an individual is accused of violating a criminal law, he or she is given the right to a fair trial by a jury of peers, which will determine if the defendant is innocent or guilty of any violation.

The Rules of Criminal Procedure are intended to provide for “the just determination of every criminal proceeding“, and are construed to secure:

(a) simplicity in procedure;

(b) fairness in administration; and

(c) the elimination of:

(1) unjustifiable expense and delay; and

(2) unnecessary claims on the time of jurors.

A criminal case begins by either a charge being filed in Municipal Court or the grand jury returning an indictment. These are the following steps of a trial that determines if an individual is guilty of violating criminal law, also known as criminal prosecution.

Preliminary Examination

During a preliminary examination, also referred to as a preliminary hearing, it is determined whether a felony crime has likely occurred. A defendant has the right to waive this process and take the case to the Grand Jury. If the defendant does not waive this process, then a judge may determine that enough evidence exists to take a case to trial.

Indictment and Information

If the judge decides it is worthy of being “bound over” to a Tennessee circuit court, then a grand jury will further examine the case to determine if they agree that enough evidence exists to send the case to trial. If it does, you will be “indicted”, or formally charged.

A Grand Jury is composed of 13 randomly selected citizens. The prosecutor and Court Reporter are also present. The jury will determine if there is enough probable cause to believe that a suspect has violated criminal law. The defendant will testify before the Grand Jurors, and the case will proceed to the Common Pleas Court for arraignment if an indictment is issued. A defendant also has the right to waive this proceeding if he or she so chooses.

Arraignment and Pleas

An arraignment notifies the defendant of the charges he or she now faces, the possible bond and the date for a pretrial conference.

In Tennessee, most criminal cases are settled through plea agreements. These agreements can be in the best interest of both the defense and prosecution and will typically result in a lesser sentence. As your attorney, I will help you determine if a plea bargain is the right move for you.

Trial

The prosecuting attorney attempts to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant violated criminal law during the trial. A defendant also presents his or her side to prove that no violation has occurred. A trial must typically be held for a case within 90 days if the defendant is being held in custody and within 270 days if he or she is out on bond.

Sentencing

A pre-sentence investigation held by the Adult Parole Authority is conducted if a guilty verdict is found, or if a defendant is determined guilty by a plea resolution. The court also provides input of the appropriate sentencing.

If you have been convicted at trial, you will have the right to appeal both your conviction and sentence at the same time. You will have a limited window of time to file your notice of appeal with the sentencing court

For a complete list of the rules of criminal procedure in the state of Tennessee, view this page.

Key Legal Mistakes People Make During Divorce

Divorce is a very stressful time for all the parties involved. Emotions are running high for both parties, and in many cases the need for revenge is prevalent. Sadly, many legal mistakes are made because decisions are being made with emotion instead of logic. In an effort to help you get through your divorce with ease, we recommend you avoid making the following mistakes:

Type Of Divorce Proceeding

Are you using the right type of divorce proceeding for your case? Talk over your options with your attorney. You can use mediation or other forms of negotiation to settle your divorce, and this could save you a lot of time, money, and heartache.

Divorce Attorney

Have you chosen the right attorney for the job? It is important that you select an attorney that can handle your type of case. For instance, if you know that your ex-spouse is going to be aggressive, you will want to have an attorney who is equally passionate about being on your side. Additionally, going through a divorce is not the time to use a friend of the family that is a corporate lawyer. While they have the authority to do this, they may not have the experience and knowledge of current divorce proceedings to accurately represent your case.

Financial Standing

It is important that you are fully aware of your financial standings both as an individual and as a couple. Make sure you know all of your debts and assets and are aware of what income and assets your spouse separate from yours (regardless of when they were acquired). Be sure you understand any debt held jointly in your names — not knowing where you stand, and where you stood financially as a couple, could cause you problems for many years after the divorce.

Social Media

Social media is not private or protected. If you are going through a divorce, avoid posting on social media. If you must post something, do not post anything about your divorce, your current separation, your spouse, your finances, or your plans for the future. Do not post anything that could make you look bad or be used against you.

Remember: everything you say can potentially be used against you.

If you are going through a divorce, correcting any of these mistakes will help you through the entire process, but the first line of defense is always a great attorney. Make sure you seek professional assistance so you have a strong advocate on your side.

What To Know About Changing & Challenging Child Custody

Specific laws and procedures govern child custody issues. When parents agree to modify an existing custody order, the process is fairly simple. Greater difficulty arises, however, when parents do not agree to proposed changes.

In all custody cases, the overlying concern is the best interest of the child. To have your request granted by the court, you must be able to demonstrate that the order you seek or the modifications you request will benefit the child and serve his/her best interests.

Timing

Depending on the state where the custody order originates, there may be a minimum period of time that must pass before a modification can be pursued. Even if your state does not have a specific waiting period, courts are often wary of requests to modify in cases where an order has been in effect for only a short amount of time.

Reason For Change

If your situation does meet the requirements for modification, you will need a good reason to justify the requested changes. In order for any modification request to be considered by the court, the change must meet the standard of a material change in circumstances and this standard must be shown.

The material change in circumstances standard allows consideration of a broad array of evidence. Examples of evidence that may be meet this standard would include a long-distance move, change in living conditions, issues with the child’s development, and many other situations.

Requested Change & Custody Order

If a material change in circumstances has been shown to the court, the parent requesting modification must also show that the requested change is in the best interest of the child and requires presentation of evidence to support that claim. Family law attorneys will be familiar with the types of evidence that can be used to demonstrate the best interest standard.

Receiving a custody order or modification of a custody order requires compliance with specific rules and procedures. Typically it includes filing papers that contain specific information and adhere to formatting rules. Compliance with these procedures and rules can be overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with the process.

An experienced family law attorney will be able to advise you about the time restraints on custody modifications. Be sure to consult with an attorney and seek out representation to assist you with throughout process in order to achieve a successful change request.

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.

Are You Ready for Marriage?

While marriage is an incredible union and planning a wedding is a thrilling experience, there are many legal considerations for a couple to think about before getting married. Taking the time to learn about the legal requirements and consequences of marriage can save future headaches and heartache. It is easy to get swept up in the romance and emotion of planning a wedding, but it is equally important to understand any and all legal and financial nuances.

Basic Marriage and Ceremony Requirements

Each state has certain laws pertaining to marriage, and it is important to familiarize yourself with your states laws. It is also crucial to separate the religious and personal traditions of a ceremony, which have little bearing on the law, from those that do have a legal impact. For example, a marriage may not be valid unless a certain official performs it.

Prenuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements can be awkward legal considerations. Few people want to think about the potential for divorce before even getting married. However, this agreement can serve as one of the most important legal documents for any marriage. It can create a sense of security, stability and trust that the relationship might lack otherwise.

The Financial Impacts of Marriage

Marriage is far more than just a traditional commitment of love and support to another person. It comes with a long list of legal and financial impacts, rights and responsibilities that couples often do not fully consider before jumping into a marriage. One of the greatest financial changes is the creation of marital property and the distinction between this property and individual property. A spouse who wishes to keep some property or assets separate from their partner will want to fully understand what they need to do to ensure this. It can be very easy to mix personal with marital property. For example, if a person has a savings or retirement account and they allow their spouse to deposit money into it, that entire account may become marital property.

Impact on Children and Inheritance

A marriage can have a major impact on children from previous marriages, and can affect inheritance. Often a new spouse becomes automatically entitled to an estate unless specific assets are set aside in wills or trusts. This often leaves stepchildren left out if new children are born into the marriage, and the ensuing legal battles can tear families apart.

Legal considerations can be complicated and confusing. A family law attorney may be able to help a potential spouse investigate the unique impacts of marriage on their lives. It is important to do this early rather than try to fix problems created after the marriage.

Marriage Annulments vs. Divorce

While annulments and divorces have the same result: dissolution of marriage; they are quite different. The main difference lies in how they treat the marriage itself. Much like a divorce, an annulment dissolves a marriage. However, an annulment serves (legally) as a declaration that the marriage did not happen, while a divorce is the ending of a validated marriage – with both parties returning to a single status.

Annulments

Annulments can provide relief for couples who feel that they should not have gotten married in the first place. A civil annulment treats the marriage as though it didn’t exist. Certain requirements are required to grant a civil annulment, such as:

  • Concealment: This occurs if one or both people hid important, material information, such as the fact that they had children or a felony conviction.
  • Fraud or Misrepresentation: This occurs if one or both spouses lie about something extremely important, such as the ability to have children, knowing that they cannot have children or that they are not married to somebody else.
  • Impotency: This occurs if one person is impotent and is not curable and if the other spouse didn’t know about this before getting married.
  • Incest: This occurs if the two people in the marriage have close familial relations.
  • Lack of Consent: This occurs if at least one of the parties does not have the mental capacity or ability to consent (think of minors), like if they were intoxicated at the time of marriage, or if they were forced into marriage (think shotgun wedding).
  • Misunderstanding: This occurs if there’s a misunderstanding regarding a desire to have kids.

Religious Annulment

The requirements for a religious annulment are different than those of a civil annulment. For Catholic couples, the church will grant an annulment based on factors regarding honesty, maturity, consent, motivation, capacity to be in a marriage, and emotional stability. If the diocesan tribunal grants the annulment, then both parties will be allowed to remarry in the Catholic Church.

Divorce

A divorce, on the other hand, is a legal action that’s taken between two people who are married in order to terminate the marriage. This is also called “dissolution of marriage.” No-fault laws make it possible for either party to file for a divorce with or without a “good” reason under an “irreconcilable differences” claim.

Both annulments and divorce are taxing on the couples seeking to end their partnership. It is important to seek the counsel of a professional divorce attorney, when determining the best route for an annulment or divorce.

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.

Digital Legacy Planning

Social networks are still a relatively new aspect of technology, with many people taking advantage of digital connection. The beauty of social networking is the interconnectivity of various people all across the world. People who take advantage of social networks find they serve as a useful tool for keeping up with friends and family, and making new work and life connections. But what happens to a person’s social media accounts, when that person is no longer here to run them?

The Grey Area

While a person is alive and well, having a social network profile can be great fun. It builds community and platform for his or her career and leaves an online footprint. When someone passes away, however, these accounts fall into a grey area where loved ones must handle the responsibility of notifying and making decisions about all existing social media.

According to many social network contracts, after a person passes on, the network inherits all of their media on that particular website. It is important to note that people can be appointed by the deceased to handle certain accounts.

What is a Digital Legacy?

There is no concrete way for social media networks to know if a person has passed on or not, except perhaps if they have not logged into their account in a very long time. This means that before a person passes on, they have the ability to leave behind information vital to their wishes concerning their social media accounts, known as a digital legacy.

When a person passes on and there is no one to take over the social media profiles that are left, the page or pages often simply remain on the host server forever. Many people have different views on this. Some like to use it as a digital tombstone, a way to remember the passed, while others wish to have the profile deleted.

Notification of Preference

The best way for someone to make his or her wishes known concerning the use of social network profiles is to leave a notification in his or her will. This way, after a person has passed on, loved ones only need to verify that person’s desire and reach out to administrators of the various online platforms.

Social network profiles can serve as important as communication in the real world. Digital legacy, while a new concept, is crucial to those you leave behind, as it can make the process of closing out accounts or management of accounts easier for everyone involved.