Child Custody, Child Support and Adoption
Children and Divorce
If you are a parent considering divorce, you may be anxious about how ending your relationship with the other parent will change how the two of you relate to one another concerning your child. You're probably losing sleep thinking about how your child will adjust to learning about your separation. Developing a plan for telling your children about the divorce or separation, ensuring that each child's emotional and financial needs are met by both parents, and creating certainty for the day-to-day aspects of parenting once the divorce is final are all concerns that you should discuss with your attorney. At BSHR, your attorney will meet with you to discuss your concerns and work with you to create a parenting plan tailored to protect the best interests of your children.
Permanent Parenting Plan Orders
In Tennessee, if you and your spouse have children, a Permanent Parenting Plan Order will be entered in your case, either agreed upon by both parents, or ordered by the Court. The form for Permanent Parenting Plans, accessible at http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/programs/parenting-plan/forms , is mandated by the State of Tennessee and created and maintained by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Child custody is one of the most difficult issues divorcing parties must resolve. If you are in the process of separating from the parent of your children, you have acknowledged that your relationship is broken beyond repair, yet at the same time you are attempting to maintain that relationship as it relates to your children. Couples who are divorcing or are in the process of separating must forge a new relationship in order to be successful co-parents. The only way this can be accomplished is to put the best interests of your children ahead of your own personal interests. It may be the only common goal that remains between you and your spouse.
In Tennessee. When awarding custody between parties and fashioning a parenting schedule, Courts must consider the best interests of your children as paramount to a parent's wishes and desires for a post-divorce parenting arrangement. Custody, or parenting time, arrangements created through the Permanent Parenting Plan Order provide for the day-to-day schedule of the minor children as well as holiday parenting time. Such plans also allocate responsibility between parents to make decisions concerning a child's religious upbrining, education and medical treatment.
In Mississippi. As in Tennessee, a custody determination between parents is based on the best interest of the child. The Mississippi Supreme Court has set out twelve factors that a court must consider when making a custody determination:
- The age, health and sex of a child.
- Which parent had continuing care of the child prior to the separation.
- Which parent has the best parenting skills.
- Which parent has the willingness and capacity to provide primary child care.
- The employment responsibilities of both parents.
- The physical and mental health of both parents.
- The emotional ties of each parent and child.
- The parents’ moral fitness.
- The child’s home, school and community record.
- The preference of a child at the age of twelve (12).
- The stability of the home environment and employment of each parent.
- Other relevant factors.
You can learn more about different custody arrangements in both Tennessee and Mississippi and which one is best for your specific situation by scheduling a consultation.
As required by federal law, Tennessee and Mississippi have established guidelines for setting and modifying child support award amounts. These guidelines must: (a) be applied by any court that has the power to determine child support awards; (b) take into consideration all earnings of each parent; (c) provide specific criteria for computing the amount of a child support obligation; and (d) provide for the child’s health care needs through health insurance coverage or other means.
In Tennessee. To read more about the specific criteria for computing child support in Tennessee, see the Child Support Guidelines, and download the Child Support Calculator maintained by the Tennessee Department of Human Services. The Child Support Calculator computes child support based on a number of factors, including but not limited to the following:
- The number of days each parent has with the child.
- Both parents' gross monthly income.
- Work-related childcare expenses.
- Insurance premiums paid on behalf of the child.
In Mississippi. The Mississippi child support guidelines provide that a noncustodial parent should pay the following percentages of his or her adjusted gross income in support of his or her children: 14% for one child; 20% for two children; 22% for three children; 24% for four children; and 26% for five or more children. These guidelines, however, are only presumptively correct for persons with an adjusted yearly income between $5,000 and $50,000. For obligors with income below or above this range, the court must make specific findings to support its child support award.
Often times, the court will deviate from the guidelines and order an amount of child support that is more or less than the presumptively correct amount. For example, the court may consider the following factors (among others) when determining whether a deviation is appropriate in a given case:
- A child’s extraordinary medical, psychological, dental or educational expenses.
- Shared parenting arrangements or extensive/reduced visitation.
- The age of the child.
- Independent income of the child.
- Seasonal variations in income and/or expenses of a parent.
- Other special needs of the child.
You may also learn more about the calculation of child support in Mississippi through the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
Guardians ad Litem
A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney appointed by the Court's order, to represent the best interests of a minor child or children in a custody proceeding.
In most situations, either or both parents will be able to represent to the Court a parenting plan or other court order that serves the best interests of a child. For this reason, Courts do not always appoint guardians when parents cannot agree concerning parenting of their children. The Supreme Court in Tennessee has specified, through Rule 40A, factors for a Court to consider when deciding whether to appoint a Guardian ad Litem:
- The circumstances and needs of the child, including the child′s age and developmental level.
- The fundamental right of parents to the care, custody, and control of their children.
- The nature and adequacy of the evidence the parties likely will present.
- The court′s need for additional information and/or assistance.
- The financial burden on the parties of appointing a guardian ad litem and the ability of the parties to pay reasonable fees to the guardian ad litem.
- The cost and availability of alternative methods of obtaining the information/evidence necessary to resolve the issues in the proceeding without appointing a guardian ad litem.
For more information, you may access Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 40A .
In Tennessee Juvenile Courts in each county have original, exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving minors, whether delinquency or dependency and neglect cases involving children. In the state of Tennessee a child is a minor until the child reaches the age of 18, though there can be exceptions to this definition.
In Mississippi Youth Courts are tasked with matters involving abuse and neglect of children, as well as offenses committed by children. Minors under the age 18 are in the jurisdiction of Youth Court, although there are some exceptions.
If you have made the decision to adopt and you reside in Tennessee, it will be necessary to ensure that the parental rights of the biological and legal parent have been terminated as part of your adoption finalization process. In accordance with state laws, when your adoption is finalized you will become the legal parents of a child, accepting the wonderful and significant responsibilities that come with parenthood just as if the child was born to your family. Although the result is the same in all adoptions, the different types of adoption can dictate that a different legal process be followed to finalize the adoption. Whether you are completing an adoption through a state agency, adopting a stepchild, adopting a relative's child, desire to adopt a child internationally or complete an independent adoption, you may contact our office for a consultation to learn about the legal process that you will be required to follow to finalize your adoption.