Child Custody & Visitation

For most parents, nothing is more important than the well-being of their children, which is probably one reason why child custody laws are often so challenging, not to mention emotional.

At the Thomas Family Law, we understand that child and joint custody disputes and other related legal matters are often difficult to deal with, especially if you do not have experienced legal guidance by your side. Fortunately, we are here to help.

No matter the circumstances, we will carefully evaluate the facts of your child custody case and explain your legal options in terms you can understand and help you in granting custody. We want you to have the information you need to make informed legal decisions ― decisions that are right for you and your family. Let us use our experience to help you get the results you want and your family needs.

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Child Custody

Are you involved in a child custody dispute? If so, the dedicated lawyers at Thomas Family Law, are here to help. You can count on us to always be up to date on the most recent family law issues and legislation, including those related to child custody and support.


Tennessee law expressly recognizes that most children do best when both parents are involved in their lives, and as such, relationships between a child and both of his or her parents should be fostered following divorce ― unless, of course, such actions are not in the best interests of the child, which is the primary concern during any child custody dispute.

While parents are free to work together and try to decide which custody arrangement is in their child's best interests ― often through mediation ― if they are unable to do so, the court may have to make the decision for them. When establishing child custody, a court will review several factors, including:

  • The past and current relationship between the child and each parent, including the existing love and emotional ties as well as whether one parent has primarily performed most parenting responsibilities in the past
  • The ability of each parent to provide the child with the necessities, including clothing, food and medical care
  • The ability of each parent to raise the child, including his or her moral, mental and physical fitness
  • The past and potential future performance of parenting obligations, including whether each parent will promote and encourage a meaningful relationship between the child and other parent
  • The needs of the child, including emotional needs
  • The home, school and community life of the child, as well as the importance of continuing a stable environment
  • The child's relationship with other siblings and other family members
  • The child's preference, but only if he or she is 12-years-old or older
  • Any evidence of emotional or physical abuse

After reviewing these and any other relevant factors, a court will outline a custody arrangement, including the parents' decision-making authority and residential/custody schedule, in a written plan otherwise referred to as a permanent parenting plan.

While the law and factors discussed above are specific to Tennessee law, custody determinations in Mississippi involve many similar legal principles. To learn more about child custody disputes under either Tennessee or Mississippi law, contact the attorneys at Thomas Family Law.


Paternity disputes are often challenging and emotionally charged legal issues. Fortunately, the dedicated lawyers at Thomas Family Law can help. Whether you are a financially strapped mother in need of child support or a father wishing to establish custody rights, we can help explain your legal options and guide you through this complex process.


If a child is born to a married woman, Tennessee law automatically presumes that her husband is the child's father ― meaning his name will be on the birth certificate.

However, if the parents are not married at the time of birth, there are two primary ways to establish paternity:

  • Voluntary acknowledgement of paternity: When the mother and father agree on paternity, they can sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, which they often complete at the hospital. This acknowledgement is then sent to the office of vital records and the father's name is placed on the birth certificate. One important thing to remember is that a man only has 60 days to dispute or rescind a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity after signing, which can cause many issues down the road if the man discovers he is not the child's father.
  • Court order: If an unwed mother and father cannot agree on paternity, either of them can file a petition with the court to establish parentage. These disputes are often resolved using DNA or genetic testing.

As mentioned earlier, there are many important reasons to establish paternity under Tennessee law. For instance, in many cases a woman will have to first establish paternity before the court will order the father make child support payments. Similarly, a father's right to custody or visitation is dependent on him being the child's legal father.

The Memphis area family law attorneys at Thomas Family Law are adept at handling contested as well as agreed paternity, support and custody matters with discretion and skill. Their experience in expertly navigating complex parentage cases is unparalleled.

Parenting Plans

In simple terms, a permanent parenting plan is a written plan that outlines your parental responsibilities, decision-making authority and residential schedule with your child. If you are going through a divorce, legal separation or annulment and children are involved, your final decree must incorporate a parenting plan.


Under Tennessee law, a parenting plan will:

  • Establish a residential schedule, which is essentially a schedule of when a child will be living with each parent on any given day, including weekends, school vacations, holidays, birthdays and other special events. The schedule must also designate a primary residential parent, which is the parent the child lives with for more than 50 percent of the time.
  • Establish parental responsibilities, including decision-making authority related to the child's religion, education, health care and extracurricular activities. In most cases, both parents can make day-to-day decisions regarding the child's well-being while the child is living with him or her or otherwise under his or her care.
  • Establish procedures for resolving parental disputes.
  • Outline child support obligations, if awarded.

If you and your child's other parent are unable to reach an agreement regarding a parenting plan, you will likely have to first attempt to mediate your dispute before the court will hear your case.

However, once the court is involved, its primary concern when determining a parenting plan and custody arrangement is the child's best interests. It may examine many factors when coming to its decision, including the existing relationship between the child and his or her parents, the relative ability of the parents as well as the child's preference, but typically only if the child is 12-years-old or older.

While the information above pertains solely to Tennessee law, we can also help if your custody dispute involves Mississippi law. Contact Thomas Family Law today if you have questions.

Parental Relocation

If you or your ex-spouse wishes to move away or relocate with your child, it is important to be aware of the many legal restrictions and requirements that a court will examine when determining whether or not to allow such a move.


If a parent wishes to move outside of Tennessee or more than 50 miles from the other parent, he or she is required under Tennessee law to send written notice of a proposed move to the non relocating parent. This notice, which the relocating parent must send by certified or registered mail at least 60 days before the proposed move, should include the reasons for the move, the anticipated new residence as well as a statement informing the other parent has 30 days to file an opposing petition to the move. If the non relocating parent does not object within this 30-day window, he or she may not be able to later.

If the parents are unable to agree on a new visitation or custody arrangement, the court may do it for them. However, the test applied by the court largely depends on whether the child spends equal time with both parents.

For instance, if the parents spend substantially equal intervals of time with the child, and the non relocating parent objects to the move, the court will decide whether to permit the child's relocation based upon the child's best interests. When assessing the best interests of a child, a court will review any relevant factor, including those used when initially determining child custody.

Alternatively, if the parents do not spend substantially equal time with the child, and it is the custodial parent who wishes to move with the child, he or she must still get the court's permission to relocate if the other parent objects to the proposed move. However, Tennessee courts will permit a relocation under these circumstances, unless:

  • There is no reasonable purpose for the move
  • The move poses a specific threat of serious harm to the child, which outweighs the possible harm of a custody change
  • The reason for the proposed move is simply to hinder the visitation or custodial rights of the noncustodial parent

If one of these circumstances exists, the court will examine whether or not the move is in the child's best interests.


Conversely, Mississippi law does not contain an established process for child relocations. In fact, in many cases, the only way to stop a move is to seek a change in custody. Therefore, if you are the custodial parent, you can typically move with a child if you want, although there is a Chancery Court rule that says you need to notify the Clerk of the Court of your new address within five days after your move.


There is an emerging increase of Hague Convention cases that deal with children being taken from or to the United States. These cases involve parents who have taken their children to reside in a different country either secretly or over the other parent’s objections. Any country that has signed the international Hague Convention treaty submits itself to the rules of procedure and evidence established by the Convention, so international custody litigation is then conducted in accordance with the Hague Convention. Thomas Family Law is versed and experienced with Hague Convention cases and is very experienced with litigation under the treaty in both state and federal courts.

Thomas Family Law Tennessee and Mississippi custody (parenting rights) lawyers have been involved in every aspect of litigation, ensuring that the firm’s clients obtain the best representation in this very sensitive area of the law.

If you have questions about parental and/or child relocation, and wish to speak to an experienced family law attorney, contact the attorneys at Thomas Family Law. While our office is located in Germantown, just outside of Memphis, our lawyers can help you with both Tennessee and Mississippi law. Email us or call us at 901-537-0010 for help today.