Where will my kids go to school?

When you get divorced and one or both parents move, which school zone applies? The answer to that is the same answer to most questions you ask a lawyer. It depends.

For a while now, the usual answer has been, generally, the school zone in which the Primary Residential Parent lives. And no, this is not a “joint decision” that has to be made by both parents. Wherever the PRP chooses to live (as long as the relocation statute isn’t triggered) is where the kids would go to school (assuming the kids go to public school, this obviously doesn’t apply for private school). Even if the parents have equal parenting time, and even if both parents agree that they want their child to attend a different school, (some) school districts will only permit the use of the PRP’s address.

But in 2019 the statute changed. Effective July 1, 2019, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36–6–410 now allows parents with equal parenting time to be joint PRPs, and the address of either parent may be used for school zoning.

So now parents with 50/50 parenting schedules don’t have to argue over who should be PRP, but they *can* argue about which parent’s address should be used for zoning. [side note: you should not be arguing. You should be collaborating.]


What Should I Wear to Court?

Whether you’re having a major trial or a simple uncontested divorce appearance, going to court can make normal people nervous (as opposed to the non-normal: lawyers). And the last thing you need to worry about is your outfit. BUT… what you wear can be important. Maybe more important than what you wear is what NOT to wear sometimes.

The standards are different in different counties and with different judges. I used to tell clients to dress like they were going to church, but that’s not really a good guide anymore. I wanted to say dress like you’re going to a funeral, but didn’t want to seem morbid. So, maybe dress like you’re going to a job interview. But in general, if you dress respectfully you’re good. What does that mean? Remember you are in a place (the courtroom) that is very formal, conservative and traditional.

  • Your shirt should have sleeves. Yes, even in the summertime ladies. You need to wear a jacket or sweater over your sleeveless dress/top when you are in the courtroom, or you might be asked to step out and you can’t get divorced in the hallway.

  • Your clothes should not have words or pictures on them unless it is a work uniform - please do not wear anything with curse words or pictures of marijuana leaves. Please.

  • Please do not wear shorts of any length or very short skirts.

  • Please do not wear a hat, cap, or much anything else on your head.

  • Please do not wear flip flops, stiletto heels, or slippers.

  • Please do not wear a lot of jewelry.

  • Men often ask me if they should wear a suit. It should please you to hear that it’s not necessary. You don’t have to wear a coat or tie, though it would be fine if you do.

  • Wear a belt if your pants are droopy.

  • Don’t wear sloppy, ill fitting, or dirty clothes.

Look, it’s old-fashioned and super boring and unoriginal and potentially sexist, and if you don’t like the dress code, I understand. But don’t sacrifice your case to be a rebel in court.

But it's Uncontested!

Something that we family lawyers hear a lot from potential and new clients is that they’re sure their divorce will be uncontested. And, considering that a vast majority of all divorces eventually settle rather than go to trial, most of them are right, it will be uncontested in the end. But just to be clear, let’s talk about it what does not make an uncontested divorce:

  • “We both a want a divorce, so it’ll be uncontested.”

  • “She said she would sign whatever I bring her.”

  • “We agree to almost everything.”

In Tennessee, to be divorced on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and have an uncontested divorce, that means you must agree to everything. Everything in the Marital Dissolution Agreement (including who gets the house, cars, bank accounts, retirement accounts, art on the walls, the dishes in the cabinet, the waffle maker, the dog, and the big screen TV). Everything in the parenting plan, if you have kids. EVERYTHING. If there is even one issue about which the two parties cannot reach an agreement, you do NOT have an uncontested divorce. It also means both parties must cooperate in executing the necessary documents. If you don’t have complete agreement, you have a contested divorce until agreement is reached.

Finding solutions


A father left 17 camels as an asset for his three sons.

When the Father passed away, his sons opened up the will.

The will of the father stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels,

The middle son should be given 1/3rd of 17 camels,

Youngest son should be given 1/9th of the 17 camels,

As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, the sons started to fight with each other.

So, they decided to go to a wise woman.

The wise woman listened patiently about the will. The wise woman, after giving this thought, brought one camel of her own & added the same to 17. That increased the total to 18 camels.

Now, she started reading the deceased father’s will.

Half of 18 = 9.
So she gave 9 camels to the eldest son.

1/3rd of 18 = 6.
So she gave 6 camels to the middle son.

1/9th of 18 = 2.
So she gave 2 camels to the youngest son.

Now add this up:
9 + 6 + 2 = 17
This leaves 1 camel,which the wise woman took back.

The attitude of negotiation & problem solving is to find the 18th camel; i.e., the common ground. Once a person is able to find the common ground, the issue is resolved.

However, to reach a solution, the first step is to believe that there is a solution. If we think that there is no solution, we won’t be able to reach any!


So, you're not happy with the outcome of your case.  The judge made a huge mistake! If that happens, you need to file an appeal. What does that mean? How do you do that? 

The most important thing to remember is that you should not wait. The deadlines to file an appeal are hard and fast-- and there is no mercy. 

Another other thing to know is that the wheels of appellate justice do not turn fast.  You're in for a long haul in most cases (the Court moves at its own pace, though it does depend on the type of case you have).  Try to be patient.

Finally, know that in the Court of Appeals there are no Perry Mason moments. Most everything happens on paper (there may be oral argument, but only the lawyers get to talk, there are no witnesses, no exhibits, no cross-examination) and without fanfare.

Harrington Law is here to help with your appeal! For more information, please see our Appeals page



The child's preference

I am often asked "how old do my kids have to be before they can choose with which parent they will live?"  The answer is 18.  When kids are 18, they can live where they want (obviously, they're adults at that point).  Until then, the parents get to choose. And when parents divorce and can't agree where the child will live? The judge gets to choose.

In Tennessee, if the child is at least 12 years old, the judge will listen to the child about where he or she would prefer to live, but it's only one factor that the judge will consider when making her decision (all the factors are listed in the statute T.C.A. 36-6-404). The weight given to the child's preference depends on the child's age, the level of maturity, how the other factors shake out, and more.  If the child is under 12 years old, the Judge doesn't have to consider what the child wants at all.

Talk to us about what effect your child's preference have, if any, on your custody determination.  And if your child wants to live with other parent-- don't freak out.  Remember, as kids get older, their needs change and parenting must change too.

A better divorce

Getting through your divorce without scorching the earth and hating each other at the end is possible. This article provides some great tips for how to make it happen: 


  1. Adopt an attitude of wanting to workout a healthy divorce.
  2. Despite what you are feeling, treat your ex partner with respect.
  3. If children are involved, you should not stand in the way of them having a healthy relationship with both parents. “When a couple is fighting over children, all it does is hurt them. When you tell your child that their mom/dad is bad, all you’re telling them is that half of them is bad,” said Peer.
  4. Do not use children to be vengeful, rather do what is best for them even if it hurts you.
  5. Don’t make emotionally driven decisions. “There’s a lot of anger, frustration and sometimes pure hatred. Making decisions based on such emotions will only come back to hurt you,” said Peer.
  6. Look at everything in the long term. This is a phase that is going to pass, while you might have justification for being angry, you can’t use it as an excuse to behave badly.
  7. If you can’t make practical decisions on your own, look to someone you trust who is wise and can offer you advice.
  8. However, be careful who you ask for help as dragging the general public into your private affairs is a breeding ground for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
  9. Do not view your family as broken, live as a newly created family.
  10. Don’t be rigid to the point where it worsens the situation or harms children involved. The court order is there to help and guide you but sometimes things change.
  11. Understand that there is no “One Size Fits All” and what worked for another couple might not work for your situation. “There is no general rule for divorce because we are working with people – vulnerable and flawed human beings,” said Peer
  12. Don’t make your divorce your story. Learn from the mistakes that you made in your marriage and let them strengthen you and not define you.
  13. Try out mediation. “It is never too late to resort to mediation, even after your divorce. You can be very creative in finding practical, workable arrangements that fit your situation. Mediation allows you more authority over your life in a comfortable and private setting,” said Peer.
  14. Sometimes litigation is the only option. “When the case is one of very high conflict, it can be very difficult to get the parties to agree on anything. In such cases, the mediation will probably not be successful and it is best for the parties to approach the courts for relief"


Give us a call to talk about how we can help make your divorce suck a little less.  


Legal Separation vs Divorce

In the past couple of days I have coincidentally had three separate conversations about Legal Separation in Tennessee-- since it's on my mind, let's talk about it: What is it, why do it, what's the point?  Some thoughts:

  • If your spouse moves out of the house, and you're living separately, you are separated. You are NOT "Legally Separated."  A Tennessee legal separation is a designation that is granted by a court order. 
  • To obtain a legal separation in Tennessee, you must file a Complaint with the court, and you must state the grounds for legal separation, just as you would if you filed for a Tennessee divorce. If you have children, you will have to have a parenting plan and set child support. You will divide assets and liabilities, and possibly provide for spousal support as well.
  • If you are legally separated, you are STILL MARRIED. That means you can't marry someone else. That also means your spouse could still inherit upon your death. And if you don't completely divide all the marital property in the Decree of Legal Separation, any new assets you acquire are potentially subject to division in the eventual divorce.
  • If you go through the process and get a legal separation, in two years, either spouse can ask the court to declare the parties divorced.

Attorneys tend to advise that, barring other circumstances, a Tennessee  legal separation is just like a Tennessee divorce: same attorney fees, same documents, same negotiations, same court hearings... without the same result. You go through all of that, but you're still married at the end of it. Why would you put yourself through all of that just to end up right where you are? Well...

A Tennessee legal separation can be a benefit if you need to live separately and provide for support or the division of property, but you want to remain married for some reason. One reason we see is that the parties' religion does not recognize divorce.  Another is that one spouse needs to remain on the other's health insurance because they have a health condition or otherwise find it unreasonable or impossible to get their own policy.  Or, if one spouse is in the military, a legal separation can also be a benefit, as there are considerations related to dependency status, retirement, and other benefits.

Get in touch to talk about Tennessee legal separation, Tennessee divorce, and what's best for your family. 


Co-Parenting Tip 4: Transitions

Tip 4: Make transitions and Parenting time easier

The actual move from one household to another, whether it happens every few days or just on weekends, can be a very hard time for children. Every reunion with one parent is also a separation with the other, each “hello” also a “goodbye.” While transitions are unavoidable, there are many things you can do to help make them easier on your children.

When your child leaves

As kids prepare to leave your house for your ex’s, try to stay positive and deliver them on time.

Help children anticipate change. Remind kids they’ll be leaving for the other parent’s house a day or two before the visit.

Pack in advance. Depending on their age, help children pack their bags well before they leave so that they don’t forget anything they’ll miss. Encourage packing familiar reminders like a special stuffed toy or photograph.

Always drop off—never pick up the child. It’s a good idea to avoid "taking" your child from the other parent so that you don’t risk interrupting or curtailing a special moment. Drop off your child at the other parent’s house instead.


When your child returns

The beginning of your child’s return to your home can be awkward or even rocky. To help your child adjust:

Keep things low-key. When children first enter your home, try to have some down time together—read a book or do some other quiet activity.

Double up. To make packing simpler and make kids feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent's house, have kids keep certain basics—toothbrush, hairbrush, pajamas—at both houses.

Allow the child space. Children often need a little time to adjust to the transition. If they seem to need some space, do something else nearby. In time, things will get back to normal.Establish a special routine. Play a game or serve the same special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine—if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it can help the transition.

If you need help working with your co-parent, contact us. We can help by mediating your differences or represent you if you need to take action.

7 Ways to Save Your Marriage

If you're reading my blog because you think you might need to get a divorce, but you're hoping your marriage will work out, here is a summary of an article giving ideas to try:

1. Make a list of all the issues you argue or feel hopeless about.

Write out a list of all the issues that you have been arguing about or giving up on.  Include on your list the issues that concern your spouse as well as the ones that irritate and frustrate you

2. Refocus onto yourself.

Notice that when you feel angry, your focus will tend to be on your spouse, on what she or he does or doesn’t do that frustrates you.

This second step requires a shift a focus, from focusing outward on him or her to focusing inward on your own concerns and desires.

3. Cut the crap.

The negative muck you give each other is totally unhelpful. Negative comments to each other only taint a positive relationship. So, no more criticism, complaints, blame, accusations, anger, sarcasm, digs or snide remarks. No more raised voices or anger escalations either. Stay in the calm zone.

4. Express concerns constructively and make decisions cooperatively.

A simple way to stay constructive in sensitive conversations is to pick from the following trio of potential sentence starters: "I feel [followed by a one-word adjective]"; "My concern is …"; or "I would like to …"

5. Eliminate the three "A’s" that ruin marriages.

Affairs, Addiction, and Anger.

6. Radically increase the positive energies you give your partner.

The best things in life really are free. The more positives you give, the more you'll get.

7. Learn the skills for a successful marriage.

Find books and marriage education courses to learn the communication and conflict resolution skills for marriage partnership.

Deciding to get a divorce is difficult, and if you've tried what you can you'll second guess yourself less.  And if you do decide to move forward, we'll be here for you. Get in touch when you're ready.

Co-Parenting Tip 3: Teamwork

Tip 3: Co-parent as a team

Parenting is full of decisions you’ll have to make with your ex, whether you like each another or not. Cooperating and communicating without blow-ups or bickering makes decision-making far easier on everybody. If you shoot for consistency, geniality, and teamwork with your co-parent, the details of child-rearing decisions tend to fall into place.


Aim for co-parenting consistency

It’s healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives and to learn to be flexible, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between your home and your ex’s avoids confusion for your children.

Rules. Rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Important lifestyle rules like homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.

Discipline. Try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction. The same can be done for rewarding good behavior.

Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedules. Making meals, homework, and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to having two homes.

Making important decisions as co-parents

Major decisions need to be made by both you and your ex. Being open, honest, and straightforward about important issues is crucial to both your relationship with your ex and your children’s well-being.

Medical needs. Whether you decide to designate one parent to communicate primarily with health care professionals or attend medical appointments together, keep one another in the loop.

Education. Be sure to let the school know about changes in your child’s living situation. Speak with your ex ahead of time about class schedules, extra-curricular activities, and parent-teacher conferences, and be polite to each other at school or sports events.

Financial issues. The cost of maintaining two separate households can strain your attempts to be effective co-parents. Set a realistic budget and keep accurate records for shared expenses. Be gracious if your ex provides opportunities for your children that you cannot provide.

Resolving disagreements

As you co-parent, you and your ex are bound to disagree over certain issues. Keep the following in mind as you try to reach a consensus.

Respect can go a long way. Simple manners should be the foundation for co-parenting. Being considerate and respectful includes letting your ex know about school events, being flexible about your schedule when possible, and taking their opinion seriously.

Keep talking. If you disagree about something important, you will need to continue communicating. Never discuss your differences of opinions with or in front of your child. If you still can’t agree, you may need to talk to a third party, like a therapist or mediator.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you disagree about important issues like a medical surgery or choice of school for your child, by all means keep the discussion going. But if you want your child in bed by 7:30 and your ex says 8:00, let it go and save your energy for the bigger issues.

Compromise. Yes, you will need to come around to your ex spouse’s point of view as often as he or she comes around to yours. It may not always be your first choice, but compromise allows you both to “win” and makes both of you more likely to be flexible in the future.

If you need help working with your co-parent, contact us. We can help by mediating your differences or represent you if you need to take action.

Co-Parenting Tip 2: Communication

Tip 2: Improve communication with your co-parent

Peaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex is essential to the success of co-parenting—even though it may seem absolutely impossible. It all begins with your mindset. Think about communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your child’s well-being. Before contact with your ex, ask yourself how your talk will affect your child, and resolve to conduct yourself with dignity. Make your child the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.

Remember that it isn’t always necessary to meet your ex in person—speaking over the phone or exchanging texts or emails is fine for the majority of conversations. The goal is to establish conflict-free communication, so see which type of contact works best for you. However you choose to communicate, the following methods can help you initiate and maintain effective communication:

Set a business-like tone. Approach the relationship with your ex as a business partnership where your “business” is your children’s well-being. Speak or write to your ex as you would a colleague—with cordiality, respect, and neutrality. Relax and talk slowly.

Make requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing as much as you can as requests. Requests can begin "Would you be willing to…?" or “Can we try…?”

Listen. Communicating with maturity starts with listening. Even if you end up disagreeing with the other parent, you should at least be able to convey to your ex that you’ve understood their point of view. And listening does not signify approval, so you won’t lose anything by allowing your ex to voice his or her opinions.

Show restraint. Keep in mind that communicating with one another is going to be necessary for the length of your children's entire childhood—if not longer. You can train yourself to not overreact to your ex, and over time you can become numb to the buttons they try to push.

Commit to meeting/talking consistently. Though it may be extremely difficult in the early stages, frequent communication with your ex will convey the message to your children that you and your co-parent are a united front.

Keep conversations kid-focused. Never let a discussion with your ex-partner digress into a conversation about your needs or their needs; it should always be about your child's needs only.

Relieving stress in the moment—no matter who you're dealing with

It may seem impossible to stay calm when dealing with a difficult ex-spouse who’s hurt you in the past or has a real knack for pushing your buttons. But by practicing quick stress relief techniques, you can learn to stay in control when the pressure builds. See: Quick Stress Relief


Improving the relationship with your ex

If you’re truly ready to rebuild trust after a break up, be sincere about your efforts. Remember your children’s best interests as you move forward to improve your relationship.

  • Ask your ex's opinion. This simple technique can jump-start positive communications between you. Take an issue that you don't feel strongly about, and ask for your ex's input, showing that you value their input.
  • Apologize. When you’re sorry about something, apologize sincerely—even if the incident happened a long time ago. Apologizing can be very powerful in moving your relationship away from being adversaries.
  • Chill out. If a special outing with your ex is going to cut into your time with your child by an hour, graciously let it be. Remember that it’s all about what is best for your child. Plus, when you show flexibility, your ex is more likely to be flexible with you.

If you need help working with your co-parent, contact us. We can help by mediating your differences or represent you if you need to take action.

Tips for Co-Parenting with an Ex

Co-parenting after a split is rarely easy, especially if you have a contentious relationship with your ex-partner. You may be concerned about your ex’s parenting abilities, stressed about child support or other financial issues, feel worn down by conflict, or think you’ll never be able to overcome all the resentments in your relationship. But co-parenting amicably with your ex can give your children the stability, security, and close relationships with both parents they need. For the sake of your kids’ well-being, it is possible for you to overcome co-parenting challenges and develop a cordial working relationship with your ex. Over the next few days, we'll post several tips to help you can remain calm, stay consistent, and resolve conflicts to make joint custody work and enable your kids to thrive.  


Tip 1: Set hurt and anger aside

Successful co-parenting means that your own emotions—any anger, resentment, or hurt—must take a back seat to the needs of your children. Admittedly, setting aside such strong feelings may be the hardest part of learning to work cooperatively with your ex, but it’s also perhaps the most vital. Co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your child’s happiness, stability, and future well-being.

Separating feelings from behavior

It’s okay to be hurt and angry, but your feelings don’t have to dictate your behavior. Instead, let what’s best for your kids—you working cooperatively with the other parent—motivate your actions.

Get your feelings out somewhere else. Never vent to your child. Friends, therapists, or even a loving pet can all make good listeners when you need to get negative feelings off your chest. Exercise can also be a healthy outlet for letting off steam.

Stay kid-focused. If you feel angry or resentful, try to remember why you need to act with purpose and grace: your child’s best interests are at stake. If your anger feels overwhelming, looking at a photograph of your child may help you calm down.

If you're having difficulty managing your feelings...

HelpGuide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit can help you manage your emotions, control troublesome thoughts, stay connected to what you feel, and quickly relieve stress.

Don't put your children in the middle

You may never completely lose all of your resentment or bitterness about your break up, but what you can do is compartmentalize those feelings and remind yourself that they are your issues, not your child's. Resolve to keep your issues with your ex away from your children.

Never use kids as messengers. When you use your children to convey messages to your co-parent, it puts them in the center of your conflict. The goal is to keep your child out of your relationship issues, so call or email your ex directly.

Keep your issues to yourself. Never say negative things about your ex to your children, or make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with their other parent that is free of your influence.

If you need help working with your co-parent, call us about mediation or representation.