Posted by: K.O. Herston | July 1, 2013

Tennessee Family Law Legislative Update 2013

Knoxville divorce lawyersIt is the first day of July, which is traditionally when much of the new legislation from this year’s legislative session goes into effect. In the few moments when it was not pandering to far right wing extremists and subjecting the State to well-deserved mockery from the rest of the Nation, the Tennessee Legislature managed to tinker with some family law statutes. Here is a short synopsis of the new legislation I think will be of interest to readers of this blog:

Parental Relocation: Public Chapter 352 amends Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108 to make the parental relocation statute applicable to relocations of 50 miles or more. Previously, it only applied when a parent relocated more than 100 miles away. The statute applies to all relocations occurring on or after July 1, 2013. Lawyers, make sure your parenting plans reflect the new 50 mile threshold.

K.O.’s Comment: Social science research shows that a parent’s relocation of even 30 miles can have a significant impact on a child’s well-being. Lowering the distance threshold to reflect this reality makes sense.

Mental Health Records: Public Chapter 220 amends Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(a)(5) to provide that when a trial court orders a Rule 35 examination of a party, it may order the disclosure of the party’s confidential mental health information provided it limits the dissemination of the confidential mental health information for the purpose of the pending litigation and requires that the information be returned or destroyed when the litigation is concluded.

K.O.’s Comment: This amendment changes nothing and merely points out the obvious powers trial courts have had all along. Considering the disparate outcomes in Culbertson and Herman, maybe the obvious needed to be pointed out.

Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights: Public Chapter 298 provides that a conviction for rape, aggravated rape, or rape of a child — where the rape results in the birth of a child — gives the other parent standing to terminate the parental rights of the offending parent. In other words, a convicted rapist’s parental rights to the child born from the rape can be terminated. Public Chapter 365 provides that a parent’s conviction for trafficking a person for a commercial sex act, commonly referred to as “pimping,” is grounds for termination of parental rights. The qualifying crime includes recruiting, transporting or “obtaining” a person for a commercial sex act “by any other means.”

Child Custody and Disabled Parents: Public Chapter 385 adds the following subsection (e) to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106: “The disability of a parent seeking custody shall not create a presumption for or against awarding custody to such a party but may be a factor to be considered by the court.” Of course, subsection (a)(5) already provides that a parent’s “mental or physical health” is a factor the trial court can consider when determining a child’s best interest.

K.O.’s Comment: This wins the prize for the most pointless family law legislation of the session. The preamble of the bill unfairly indicts honorable judges all across Tennessee when it states “the General Assembly finds that Tennesseans with disabilities have suffered invidious discrimination in child welfare and custody proceedings throughout the State on account of such disability.” It goes without saying that this is complete nonsense. It is irresponsible for the Legislature to make such incendiary claims.

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.


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