If you have children and you're going through a divorce, custody and visitation are the biggest things on your mind. I have helped hundreds of families through this process, and I can help guide you, too.

There are so many things to consider when designing a parenting plan: How will you make decisions about sports and extracurricular activities? Who decides where the children go to church? Which parent has to pay for the prom dress? What about vacations? I have dealt with all of these questions and many more.

Some things seem unimportant today, but they may become very important in a few years. You need an experienced attorney who has dealt with these issues.

If you've never been married

If you've never been married

If you have a child with someone you were never married to, child custody is a little different. In Tennessee, a child born out of wedlock is in the custody of his/her mother until a judge signs an order saying otherwise. If you're the dad, the burden is on you to establish paternity, and get a parenting plan in place that gives you custody, or at least visitation. My firm has helped many fathers secure rights to their children.

If you're the mother of a child born out of wedlock, you need financial help from the dad so that you can provide for your child's needs. I can help you with that.

If you're raising someone else's kids

The drug problem in the Upper-Cumberland has led to many children being effectively abandoned by their parents. I see so many grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and even family friends or neighbors raising these abandoned children. Often these foster parents call my office asking what they need to do to best protect and provide for these children.

If you are raising someone else's child, you need to become that child's legal guardian. Otherwise, when Dad gets clean for a few days, or when Mom gets out of jail, he or she may take the child. And there will be nothing you can do to stop it.

A guardianship proceeding is usually simple and fast. Give my office a call if you find yourself in this kind of situation. We will explain the process and give you the information you need to decide what you need to do.

If kids need a change

Maybe you already have a parenting plan in place, one that served you well at first. But with the passage of time, things have changed and that plan just doesn't work anymore. If you want information about how to change it, contact my office.

In an emergency

Emergencies happen. A child's parent dies unexpectedly. Mom or Dad goes to jail. Sometimes unpredictable things happen, and you need a lawyer to act fast in order to protect a child. I am usually able to act quickly, and we can get you into court on fairly short notice.

How a court decides

A judge focuses on the best interest of a child when determining who is to have custody. There are fourteen factors the law requires judges to consider in determining a child's best interest. Those factors are found in Tennessee Code 36-6-106:

(1) The strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent, including whether one parent has performed the majority of parenting responsibilities relating to the daily needs of the child;

(2) Each parent's or caregiver's past and potential for future performance of parenting responsibilities, including the willingness and ability of each of the parents and caregivers to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both of the child's parents, consistent with the best interest of the child. In determining the willingness of each of the parents and caregivers to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and both of the child's parents, the court shall consider the likelihood of each parent and caregiver to honor and facilitate court ordered parenting arrangements and rights, and the court shall further consider any history of either parent or any caregiver denying parenting time to either parent in violation of a court order;

(3) Refusal to attend a court ordered parent education seminar may be considered by the court as a lack of good faith effort in these proceedings;

(4) The disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education and other necessary care;

(5) The degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver, defined as the parent who has taken the greater responsibility for performing parental responsibilities;

(6) The love, affection, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;

(7) The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;

(8) The moral, physical, mental and emotional fitness of each parent as it relates to their ability to parent the child. The court may order an examination of a party under Rule 35 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure and, if necessary for the conduct of the proceedings, order the disclosure of confidential mental health information of a party under § 33-3-105(3). The court order required by § 33-3-105(3) must contain a qualified protective order that limits the dissemination of confidential protected mental health information to the purpose of the litigation pending before the court and provides for the return or destruction of the confidential protected mental health information at the conclusion of the proceedings;

(9) The child's interaction and interrelationships with siblings, other relatives and step-relatives, and mentors, as well as the child's involvement with the child's physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;

(10) The importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment;

(11) Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent or to any other person. The court shall, where appropriate, refer any issues of abuse to juvenile court for further proceedings;

(12) The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person's interactions with the child;

(13) The reasonable preference of the child if twelve (12) years of age or older. The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preference of older children should normally be given greater weight than those of younger children;

(14) Each parent's employment schedule, and the court may make accommodations consistent with those schedules;