The Tennessee Legislature has begun its 2015 session. Several bills affecting family law have been introduced. Below is a brief summary of some pending family law legislation.
Senate Bill 101/House Bill 90: This would allow a child support obligor and the obligee to enter into a written settlement to forgive accrued principal and interest on a child support arrearage with the approval of the court. It requires the court to find the forgiveness of the child support arrearage is in the best interests of the child. This bill is part of Governor Haslam’s legislative package.
K.O.’s Comment: I would love someone to explain a scenario where it would it be in the child’s best interest to forego financial support to which it is entitled.
Senate Bill 161/House Bill 609: This bill requires the premarital value of retirement, pensions, and other employment benefits together with the marital appreciation be treated as separate property for purposes of division of property in a divorce. It further provides the court should use “any reasonably reliable method” to determine the amount of postmarital appreciation of premarital accounts, regardless of whether contributions were made to the account and contributions have appreciated in value during the marriage.
Senate Bill 400: This is the *sigh* “EGG and SPERM Act,” which stands for Egg Guidelines and Governance and Sperm Provider Effective Record Management Act. First, please stop with the forced acronyms. Second, the bill defines various terms as they relate to egg and sperm donation, and assisted reproductive technology (ART). It requires oocyte collection agencies, sperm banks, and ART programs to report certain information to department of health. It also requires the establishment of collection and reporting rules, and the maintenance of contact information for oocyte collection agencies, sperm banks, and ART programs.
Senate Bill 809/House Bill 950: This bill establishes certain disclosure and information and data reporting requirements regarding assisted reproductive technologies.
K.O.’s Comment: These bills could be the Legislature’s initial response to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s pleas for action in last year’s surrogacy case In re Baby. They still don’t address the issues presented in In re Baby but perhaps they’ll get around to that someday after they establish the Bible as the State’s official book, establish a military assault weapon as the State’s official gun, authorize exploding targets, eliminate “no-go zones,” and solve other imaginary problems.
Senate Bill 440/House Bill 445: This bill removes a parent’s right to to revoke the voluntary surrender of the parent’s child for adoption. At present, a parent has 10 days to revoke a voluntary surrender. The bill would allow a judge to revoke or invalidate a voluntary surrender if the judge determines by clear and convincing evidence that the surrender involved duress, fraud, or intentional misrepresentation or if revocation is in the child’s best interests.
K.O. Comments: After certain decisions are made, Tennessee law provides a “grace period” whereby people can change their minds, e.g., contracts to join a gym/health club can be revoked within three days. Why should a parent’s decision to voluntarily surrender a child for adoption not be afforded the same consideration? The 10-day period is already extremely short in order to provide stability for the adoptive family. While I realize those 10 days are filled with anxiety, the permanent cessation of the parent-child relationship is too consequential to be treated like just any other ordinary decision. I believe this bill should be defeated.
Senate Bill 668/House Bill 829: This bill requires that where an order of protection or restraining order is granted against an offender arrested for stalking, aggravated stalking, or a domestic violence offender prior to the offender’s release from custody, the offender must be served with the order prior to release.
Senate Bill 812/House Bill 960: This bill would allow a divorce court to divide marital property without regard to marital fault (which is the current law) or, in its discretion, with regard to marital fault.
K.O.’s Comment: It should be self-evident that injecting fault considerations into the equitable division of marital property is a terrible idea. Marital fault can be considered in the subsequent alimony analysis where, if appropriate, the court can award marital assets to a party as alimony in solido.
Senate Bill 1206/House Bill 565: This bill clarifies the legislative intent of the foster care statute is to place a child in a permanent home at an early date if an early return to the child’s parents is not appropriate or possible under the current statute.
Senate Bill 1231/House Bill 737: This bill abolishes the common law “doctrine of necessaries,” thereby establishing that no spouse shall be liable for the other spouse’s debt arising solely by reason of the marriage.
K.O.’s Comment: The doctrine provides that, for example, a provider of medical services can recover a debt under the necessaries doctrine by proving that (1) it provided medical services to the receiving spouse, (2) the medical services were necessary for the receiving spouse’s health and well-being, (3) the person from whom recovery is sought was married to the receiving spouse when the services were provided, and (4) payment for the services has not been made. I predict the medical service providers will kill this bill.
Senate Bill 1393/House Bill 1369: This bill requires that the post-adoption services provided by the Department of Children’s Services (e.g., counseling, crisis intervention, support groups, respite services, case management services, etc.) be offered to all families of adopted children and biological families of adopted children, regardless of whether the children were adopted through DCS.
K.O.’s Comment: Please forgive me for doubting the Legislature’s willingness to increase DCS’s budget to expand these services to all adoptive families regardless of their financial means.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.