Posted by: koherston | August 18, 2011

2011 Tennessee Legislative Update Part I

Another year brings another round of mostly meaningless legislation from your Tennessee Legislature. Here’s the recap:

Child custody. A new law requires a court, after taking into account a child’s best interest, to order a child custody arrangement that permits both parents to enjoy “maximum participation possible” in a child’s life while taking into account the location of the residences of the parents, the child’s need for stability, and all other relevant factors. 2011 PC 433, effective 6/6/11. Author’s Comment: This is blatant pandering to the so-called “Father’s Rights” groups that want the Tennessee Legislature to mandate a one-size-fits-all equal time arrangement in every divorce. Sadly, I’m not kidding. This amendment is nothing more than a restatement of existing law designed solely to pander to a small, vocal group of complainers. Does it change the law? No.

A new law authorizes a court to hold an expedited hearing in cases in which it is necessary for the court to determine whether a temporary modification to a decree for child custody or visitation is appropriate for children of a mobilized member of the armed forces and the exigencies of the mobilized parent’s out-of-state assignment requires immediate attention. The act also clarifies that the court may still permanently modify a child custody decree or a visitation order in the event that the parent volunteers for successive or frequent duties that remove the parent from the state and make the parent unavailable to effectively supervise and care for the child. 2011 PC 86, effective 4/14/11. Author’s Comment: Courts have always had this inherent authority. Does this change anything? No.

Grandparent Visitation. A new law adds four factors to the list of factors that a court must consider in determining the best interest of the child with regard to granting grandparent visitation. The four factors are (1) any unreasonable deprivation of the grandparent’s opportunity to visit with the child by the child’s parents or guardian, including denying the grandparent visitation with the minor child for a period exceeding 90 days; (2) whether the grandparent is seeking to maintain a significant existing relationship with the child; (3) whether awarding grandparent visitation would interfere with the parent-child relationship; and (4) any court finding that the child’s parent or guardian is unfit. 2011 PC 500, effective 7/1/11. Author’s Comment: This represents a potentially significant expansion of the law regarding grandparent visitation, which has been steadily trending in favor of grandparents and against the fundamental right of parents to decide to whom their children should be exposed.

Marital Property and Spousal Support. A new law defines “dissipation of assets” to mean wasteful expenditures which reduce the marital property available for equitable distribution and which are made for a purpose contrary to the marriage either before or after a complaint for divorce has been filed. The law also provides that distributions of lump sum amounts of retirement or pension benefits necessary to complete a division of property, whether distributed in a single payment or by periodic payments, may not be considered income for purposes of determining an ex-spouse’s right to receive alimony or child support. 2011 PC 119, effective 4/25/11. Author’s Comment: Dissipation has always been defined this way by case law. The codification of this definition changes nothing. The second part of the law can be restated as “property division shall be treated as property division.” Thanks for clarifying that, Tennessee Legislature!

So far we have four statutes purporting to clarify five aspects of Tennessee family law. Only one (grandparent visitation) makes any potentially substantive change in the law. Come back Monday for Part II to see what else your tax dollars have been paying for in Nashville.

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


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