Family Law FAQ
This is intended to give you the basic information about what you can, and can't, do with your children.....if you want to enhance your chances of success.
- Communication with your Spouse.
- Try to discuss your child's welfare with your spouse. Limit your discussion to the child's welfare. Don't discuss the new boyfriend or girlfriend or what you are angry with your spouse about....it's counterproductive. If you cannot discuss these matters with your spouse, write the spouse a letter or memo. Save a copy.
- This is addressed from a practical, not moral, stance. You are still married, and you will be until the Judge dissolves your marriage. Terminate or put on hold any extra-marital relationship. If the new boyfriend/girlfriend cares about you enough he or she will wait for you. If not, so be it. You need to concentrate on maintaining and developing your relationship with your children. You do not have the time or money right now for affairs. That time will come later, after this case is closed. If you perceive the extramarital relationship to be a very stable one leading to marriage, and you elect to ignore my advice, remember you have been warned. Do not involve the paramour in your child's life. Regardless of how much the new love object purportedly cares for your child, limit your contact with the boyfriend/girlfriend to times when the child is with the other parent. Your paramour's lifestyle, behavior, marital status, and indeed relationship with his/her own children, will come under scrutiny in your custody case.
- Medical Care
- Elective, non-emergency medical care should be undertaken after consultation with the child's other parent. If the parent refuses to discuss this with you, let that parent know the name of the service provider, the procedures undertaken, and the diagnosis. Don't keep the child's medical care a secret from the other parent.
- If you are the primary residential parent, let the other parent know when parent-teacher conferences are scheduled. Give the other parent a copy of the child's report card. Share the child's schoolwork with the other parent. Discuss homework and school responsibilities the child may have with the other parent.
- If you are a visiting parent, you have the right to contact the school and ask that you be contacted about parent-teacher conferences and the child's school records. Do so. Don't place all the responsibility upon your spouse to let you know. Take an active part in the child's education.
- If you are the primary residential parent, have the children ready for the visit. Have a supply of suitable clothing ready to accompany the child. You don't want the Judge to learn that you let your child go off on a weekend visit with the clothes he/she was wearing and another change in a plastic bag, do you?
- As a single parent, you need a break from the child. And the child needs a break from you. In an intact family, both parents relieve one another from the constant demands of the child. In a divorce situation, the appropriate relief is visitation with the other parent.
- If you are the visiting parent, pick up the child on time. Return the child on time. If you're going to be unexpectedly late, call. Don't demand that the child keep toys and clothing at your house, just because you purchased them. After all, those items are the child's, not yours.
- A medical condition short of hospitalization is no excuse for denying visitation. The visiting parent can, and should, assume some of the responsibility of caring for a sick child. If your child needs medication during the visit, make sure you send the dosage required and clear directions in writing for the medicine (keep a copy).
- Do not use the child as an intermediary to carry messages between you and your spouse. You're an adult. You know how to communicate.
- Visitation is not a time to revisit disputes with your spouse. It's time with your child. Use it for that. This is not the time to introduce the child to your new love match.
- Do not pump your child for information about life in the other parent's home. If it's worth telling, the child will tell you.
- Do not ask your child to keep secrets about what takes place in your home.
- You do not have the right to refuse visitation because the other parent hasn't paid child support. The two issues are not related. You have a remedy in court for nonpayment of child support. You can lose physical care of your child if you deny court-ordered visitation.
- Don't get too upset about your child's behavior at the beginning or end of each visit. The child's cries at the end of a visit are perceived by the primary residential parent as tears of joy at being reunited with the parent, and the same outburst is viewed by the visiting parent as tears of sadness at the separation. Plan some kind of activity to allow the child to "wind down".
- Child Support
- If you are ordered to pay child support during the pendency of this action, pay it. If you simply can't make the full payment, at least make a partial payment. The Judge will not look kindly upon your claim for increase visitation or physical care when you have failed to contribute to your child's support.
- Child support is money you have paid to the court (if an order has been entered) or money paid directly to your spouse for the child's support.
- Child support is not a bicycle or shoes that you bought the child during the weekend visit. It is the money that puts bread on the table and pays the rent.
- Divorce is tough. It's kind of like death, only no one sends you a condolence card. It hurts. However, it's not fatal.
- Go to a mental health professional. It's often easier to discuss your feelings with someone you'll never see again, someone who'll not say "I told you so". Therapy will not be held against you in court. In fact, in addition to helping you through the anger and sadness of divorce, the fact that you sought therapy can be looked upon as a positive factor by the court.
- Tennessee requires parents to attend a court approved parenting class. You can never learn enough about parenting. It's an ongoing process. You may want to enroll in an extra parenting class. Read about child care, child development, parenting techniques. Show the Judge that you know something about parenting and that you have a willingness to learn.
- Telling the Child about Divorce
- Your child knows more about what's going on in his or her life more than you may realize. You do not need to go into details about why the marriage ended with the child. There are a number of children's books geared to varying ages and reading levels, which discuss divorce and single parenting issues with the child.
- Remember when you first became a parent? You were filled with worry and doubt about what your life was going to be like.
- Your friends and relatives all gave you advice about what childbirth and the new baby were going to be like, but when you actually went through these steps your feelings were unique. Divorce is much the same.
- While everybody's case has common threads, the actual experience for each is unique.
- You are making the same adjustments in your life day by day as a divorcing parent as you did as a new parent. Be the best parent for your child that you can be. As a good parent you try to be a good example for your child in all aspects of your life.
- The example you give your child as a divorcing parent is as important as the rest of the "good examples" you try to give your child.