Hello, friends! It’s that time of year again—time to review how our legislators made Tennessee family law worse than it was this time last year.
First, let’s all take a minute to chug a jar of East Tennessee moonshine to prepare ourselves for what’s to come.
OK, now that we’re sufficiently numb, let’s get started. Hit us with your best shot, Tennessee General Assembly!
Child support. Public Chapter 145 easily wins the contest for the worst family-law legislation of the year. It lowers the mandatory interest rate on judgments for child-support arrearages to anywhere from zero to no more than 4%. Guess which non-child-support judgments automatically carry a higher interest rate in Tennessee?
The worst part about this is the argument the bill’s proponents used to give this gift to deadbeat parents, i.e., that disincentivizing the prompt payment of child support will somehow encourage the prompt payment of child support.
You see that, right? C’mon—you don’t have to be some fancy-pants lawyer to see how that makes perfect sense!
Applying this same logic to other issues, expect our legislators next year to reduce the penalties for repeat drunk drivers because they believe doing so will somehow encourage repeat offenders to change their ways and start driving sober.
This law went into effect on April 17, 2017. For a more detailed analysis of this embarrassment, read this.
In another gift to deadbeat parents, Public Chapter 419 effectively provides a five-year limit on child-support arrearages. Specifically, it prevents a trial court from awarding retroactive child support for more than five years from the date the action to recover child support is filed unless the custodial parent can prove “good cause” for why the child-support award should go back more than five years. It also permits the court to award less than five years if it wants.
Public Chapter 300 allows the state to seize up to 50% of an inmate’s commissary account to satisfy a judgment for a child-support arrearage. This law went into effect on May 5, 2017.
Property division. Public Chapter 309 adds a new factor courts should consider when making an equitable division of marital property. Candidly, this new statutory factor is so poorly written that I’m not 100% sure exactly what it does. Here’s what it says:
In determining the value of an interest in a closely held business or similar asset, all relevant evidence, including valuation methods typically used with regard to such assets without regard to whether the sale of the asset is reasonably foreseeable. Depending on the characteristics of the asset, such considerations could include, but would not be limited to, a lack of marketability discount, a discount for lack of control, and a control premium, if any should be relevant and supported by the evidence.
Although one cannot be certain because of its incoherence, I assume the drafter’s intent is to reverse the caselaw finding error when courts apply a discount for lack of marketability of shares in a closely-held corporation when there is no evidence that a sale of the shares is necessary, desirable, or intended. See, e.g., Barnes v. Barnes.
Of course, the same caselaw applies to the valuation of real property, i.e., there is no discount for the cost of sale if there is no evidence a sale is contemplated. Rather than applying the same principle to real property — which is owned by most divorcing parties — the legislature reserves this discount only for owners of closely-held corporations. I wonder why.
Juvenile Court. Public Chapter 263 updates the list of information that must be included in petitions filed in juvenile courts.
Public Chapter 292 adds the commission of trafficking for commercial sex acts to the definitions of child sexual abuse and severe child abuse.
Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Several amendments to the rules of appellate procedure go into effect on July 1, 2017. The two most notable are:
- Tenn. R. Civ. P. 4(a) now provides that a notice of appeal is filed with the appellate court clerk, not the trial court clerk.
- Tenn. R. Civ. P. 6 now requires the appellant to pay a filing fee to the appellate court clerk. It also disposes of the former practice of requiring a cost bond on appeal.
Tennessee Rules of Evidence. A new Advisory Commission Comment to Rule 611 allows trial courts to permit a witness to have a support animal, toy, or support person present when testifying if the witness is at risk for being unable to communicate effectively without it.
Unless noted otherwise above, these new laws and rule changes go into effect July 1, 2017.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce and Family-Law Attorney.