Existing law in Tennessee requires that, in those few cases where parents cannot agree on what arrangement is best for their children, the court must consider evidence of a whole host of factors and come up with whatever arrangement the court finds is in the best interest of the children. This gives the court wide discretion to do what is best for children under the unique facts and circumstances presented by each case. Makes sense, right?
In response to a few vocal members of the “Father’s Rights” movement, some of our legislators are trying to score cheap political points by taking away a judge’s discretion to the detriment of children. They think they know better than individual judges who—*gasp*—actually hear evidence in specific cases.
Specifically, they have introduced House Bill 2916 and Senate Bill 2881, which would require a judge to order equal custody (i.e., equal parenting time, joint decision-making, etc.) in every case unless one parent is found by clear and convincing evidence to be unfit (which is very rarely the case, in my experience).
Never mind that most child mental health experts oppose equal custody in high-conflict cases as being detrimental to children. Never mind that low-income parents who cannot afford to litigate will be forced to accept equal custody even though they don’t believe it is best for their child. Never mind that parents often live far apart, sometimes in different states and countries. Never mind that 5-10% of custody cases involve parents so angry and hostile that the children are being placed in a war zone.
Instead of allowing experienced judges the discretion to tailor a solution to the specific facts presented in each unique case, some legislators believe children should be forced into a “one-size-fits-all” solution even if that is not in their best interest.
Human relationships are complicated and no two are exactly alike. I’m not sure which is more complex—the relationship with an ex or that between a parent and child. When wading through this inherent complexity, the best interest of the children must be the ONLY focus. Period. Any legislator who says otherwise should be run out of office.
Politicians have to get re-elected so they are going to pander to various constituencies, particularly those fringe groups who make the most noise. That is never going to change. But it would be nice if they could confine their silly political posturing to other issues. Children ought to be off limits. Imposing the same solution to every custody problem is beyond absurd.
I didn’t post on these bills when they were first introduced because I thought they were so stupid that they would quickly be rejected. I am posting about them now because—in an embarrassment to every citizen of this State—the House bill actually passed a subcommittee and has made its way to the House Children and Family Affairs committee. The Senate bill is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I encourage you to click the committee links above and email your thoughts on this proposed legislation to the committee members.