Tennessee Family Law Legislative Update 2021

June 23, 2021 K.O. Herston 2 Comments

As the Tennessee General Assembly squandered its limited time fighting imaginary culture wars this year, it still found a few minutes to spare on legislation affecting Tennessee family law. Let’s see what they did!

Domestic violence. Public Chapter 60 creates a new law to provide a “lifetime order of protection” against those convicted of felonies for assault crimes (assault, aggravated assault, domestic assault, etc.), homicide, kidnapping, false imprisonment, human trafficking, and sex crimes. This lifetime order of protection stays in effect until either party dies. It is available to the victim of the crime or members of the victim’s immediate family.

Public Chapter 293 creates a new statute that allows victims of domestic abuse to break residential leases early and without penalty provided they follow the process set out in the statute.

Child custody and visitation. Public Chapter 164 amends Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-102(a) to add aggravated statutory rape and statutory rape by an authority figure to the list of crimes for which a conviction removes any right to visitation or inheritance regarding a child conceived from the crime. The other crimes to which this applies are rape, aggravated rape, and rape of a child.

Public Chapter 235 replaces Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(e), which prohibited a parent’s disability from creating a presumption for or against a parent, with this:

The disability of a parent alone shall not be considered for or against awarding custody to such a party unless the disability impacts the parent’s ability to meet the needs of the child.

I cannot imagine that ever happening in the real world, but okay.

The Legislature apparently thinks poor parents have had it too easy for too long.

Child support. Public Chapter 227 deletes the provision in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-5-101(g)(4)(B) that used to allow Child Support Services to modify the child support of low-income obligors when there was only a 7 ½% difference between the current obligation and the proposed one. Now, low-income obligors are treated the same as everyone else, i.e., there must be a “significant variance” of 15% between the current obligation and the proposed one to allow a modification.

Juvenile Court. Public Chapter 568 establishes a law that creates a presumption that a child born to a parent who has already had another child removed to the custody of the Department of Children’s Services for being dependent and neglected “may be” dependent and neglected such that the new child’s birth must be brought to the court’s attention. The court must “immediately” hold a hearing to determine whether additional measures are needed “to protect the safety and well-being of the family.”

Public Chapter 508 amends the definition of “severe abuse” in Title 37 to include knowingly allowing the child to be in a place where Schedule I controlled substances, cocaine, methamphetamine, or fentanyl are present and accessible to the child.

Termination of parental rights. Public Chapter 190 rewrites the factors courts must consider when determining whether termination is in the child’s best interest. The new version of Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-113(i) has 20 factors (!!!), many of which are duplicative and rewrite or expand the former factors. Notable additions include:

Termination opinions are waaaay too long already. Now that they’ll address 20 best-interest factors, there will be more of this in law offices across the state.
  • whether the parent, the parent’s home, or others in the parent’s household trigger or exacerbate the child’s experience of trauma or posttraumatic symptoms;
  • whether the child has created a healthy parental attachment with another person in the absence of the parent;
  • whether the child has emotionally significant relationships with others, including biological or foster siblings, and the likely impact of various outcomes on these relationships; and
  • whether the parent has demonstrated a sense of urgency in establishing paternity, seeking custody, or addressing the conditions that made an award of custody unsafe or not in the child’s best interest.

This change became effective on April 22, 2021.

Adoption. Public Chapter 375 creates new laws prohibiting the Department of Children’s Services from requiring a person or members of their household to get a vaccination before they can adopt a child or be a foster parent unless the child is less than 18 months old or has “significant documented medical needs that would necessitate” the vaccinations. This became effective on May 11, 2021.

Public Chapter 101 removes all the laws governing the “contact veto” registry for biological parents of adopted children. Interestingly, this law doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2022.

Marriage. Public Chapter 255 amends Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-3-301(a)(1) to allow public notaries to officiate weddings. This became effective on April 28, 2021.

Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 11.01(a) now requires the signer of a pleading to include their email address in their contact information.

Rules of Appellate Procedure. Rule 9(b) now requires trial courts who believe an interlocutory order is appealable to identify “the specific issue or issues the court is certifying for appeal.”

Rule 20(a) now provides that an appellate filing is timely if it is “placed for delivery with computer tracking” with the United States Postal Service “within the time fixed for filing.” The practice only applied to a “commercial delivery service” before this amendment specified it also applies to the U.S. Postal Service, which I suppose someone somewhere thought was not a commercial delivery service.

There is new legislation not covered here that changes some family-law statutes in minor and mostly technical ways, but nothing I find worth mentioning. I’ve covered only those changes I feel Tennessee family-law attorneys and litigants need to know.

Unless noted otherwise above, these new laws and procedural rules take effect on July 1, 2021.

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Tennessee Family Law Legislative Update 2021 was last modified: June 23rd, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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