Tennessee Legislative Update 2023

June 29, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Has it already been a year since readers in Tennessee and around the world collectively groaned when you read my annual legislative-update post? My, how time flies!

Our Legislature started 2023 with a flurry of performative culture-war playacting, responded to a mass shooting at an elementary school by granting legal immunity to gun manufacturers, expelled lawmakers only to have the voters send them back with new-found national stature, and a bunch of other things that do nothing to improve our lives. Despite all this, the brave culture warriors we sent to Nashville found a few minutes to muck around in Tennessee family law.

Our tax dollars pay our Attorney General to fight imaginary wars.

Longtime readers know the drill: lower the blinds, turn down the lights, put on some relaxing music, light some scented candles, and drink your favorite alcoholic beverage before reading any further.

To new lawyers, it’s not too late to change to employment law, elder law, or anything but family law. You’ve been warned. What happens next is on you.

Here we go.

Service of Process. Rule 5.02 previously allowed attorneys to serve pleadings on other attorneys by email. It has been expanded to allow service-by-email on unrepresented parties.

Appeals. The Court of Appeals issued two new rules. New Rule 16 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals codifies the longstanding policy limiting lawyers on each side to 15 minutes for oral argument unless the Court orders otherwise. This new Rule 16 went into effect on January 10, 2023.

Effective June 21, 2023, New Rule 17 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals imposes obligations on those who file documents with the Court to certify that the claims have evidentiary support, are not being presented for an improper purpose, are warranted by existing law or nonfrivolous arguments to change existing law or establish new law, etc. It also allows the Court to sanction those who are found to violate the new Rule 17. This is similar to Rule 11 in the Rules of Civil Procedure.

Effective March 23, 2023, Public Chapter 62 creates a new statute—TCA § 20-12-145—that allows costs on appeal to be recovered, including the cost of preparing the record, obtaining the trial court transcript, copying briefs, premiums for appeal bonds, litigation taxes, etc.

E-Filing. The General Assembly passed a budget that includes $75 million for e-filing in the state court system. Hopefully, this will make e-filing more commonplace across the state. It’s only a matter of time before it’s everywhere. The sooner, the better.

Family-Law Mediators. The Tennessee Supreme Court approved the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission’s request to increase the hours required for family-law mediators to obtain the “Specially Trained in Domestic Violence Issues” designation from 12 to 16 hours. So, Supreme Court Rule 31(14)(g) now requires 16 hours of training instead of 12 hours to get this designation. As a family-law mediator, I perceive that very few family-law mediators have this designation. This development makes that less likely to change anytime soon.

Family-Law Procedure. TCA § 20-6-102 was created in 2019 to protect people from identity theft by requiring that certain identifying information not be included in pleadings filed with the courts. Among the protected information was the requirement that a child be identified by their initials instead of their full name and by the year of their birth instead of their entire birthdate. For reasons unknown, Public Chapter 124 adds language to the statute exempting these requirements from parenting plans, thereby keeping these protections for adults but not children. This became effective on March 20, 2023. It will still be my practice to protect children’s identities by using their initials on parenting plans, child support worksheets, etc., and I encourage you to do the same.

Public Chapter 139 adds a new section to TCA § 37-1-127 allowing the video recording of a forensic interview of a child under 18 describing sexual or “physically violent contact” the child experienced or witnessed to be admissible in juvenile court instead of the child’s testimony if the court is reasonably satisfied the video has “particularized guarantees of trustworthiness,” was conducted by a qualified forensic interviewer, and has not been edited or altered. This became effective on April 6, 2023. What trier-of-fact needs cross-examination anyway?

Public Chapter 241 completely upends the process of taking a de novo appeal from a magistrate’s decision in juvenile court. Now, the magistrate must enter an order with findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations. Within 10 days of the entry of the magistrate’s order, a party must file a written request for “a review of the record” by the juvenile court judge. The written request must (1) include written exceptions to the magistrate’s findings, conclusions, or recommendations (like one would do with the recommendations of a special master under Rule 53.04(2)) and (2) specify the findings to which the party objects, the grounds for the objections, and the party’s proposed findings, conclusions, or recommendations. Moreover, the juvenile court judge’s review “is not a hearing and is limited to those matters for which exceptions have been filed.” And for the coup de grace, the magistrate’s findings are entitled to a presumption of correctness and can only be changed upon the juvenile court judge’s finding of an abuse of discretion. If no review is requested, the magistrate’s order becomes final and appealable to the circuit court for a de novo hearing per TCA § 37-1-159. This became effective on April 25, 2023. Even if one thinks this is a good thing, 10 days from the entry of an order is not enough time to obtain a trial transcript, much less to prepare detailed, well-researched arguments about exceptions to the magistrate’s ruling. Good lawyering from busy lawyers takes more time than this allows.

With all problems solved and nothing left to improve, our Legislature passed Public Chapter 228 to create a new state motto: “Send Me.” This new motto joins the existing “Agriculture and Commerce.”

Child Support. Effective March 2, 2023, Public Chapter 40 amended TCA § 36-5-101(e)(3) to require the Child Support Guidelines to be updated every four years instead of every three years. The Child Support Guidelines have been in effect since 2005. Since then, inflation has increased by 45%, while the maximum support obligation has not changed. Tell me how that serves children.

Public Chapter 366 allows the court to require an obligor behind on their child-support obligation to remove litter from highways or other public areas like parks and playgrounds. The court can also order the Tennessee Department of Safety to issue a restricted driver’s license for the obligor. This became effective on April 17, 2023.

Marriage. Effective March 14, 2023, Public Chapter 46 amended TCA § 36-3-301(k) to add former municipal judges to the long list of officials allowed to “solemnize the rite of matrimony.”

Orders of Protection. Public Chapter 277 amends TCA § 36-3-601 to amend the definition of “abuse” to include intentional behavior “that amounts to financial abuse.” This includes:

  • restricting a person’s access to money, assets, credit, or financial information;
  • “unfairly” using a person’s money, assets, and credit “to gain an advantage”; or
  • exerting undue influence over a person’s financial decisions, including forcing a default on joint financial obligations.

Victims of financial abuse are now entitled to an order of protection. This became effective on April 28, 2023.

Trials. Effective April 4, 2023, the statute that allowed parties to agree to employ a retired or former judge to decide their case—TCA § 17-2-121—was repealed by Public Chapter 118.

Adoption and Termination of Parental Rights. We have several new adoption and parental-termination bills this year, including some new grounds for termination. All I can do here is provide a very general overview. If your practice involves these subjects, you’ll want to read the actual bills. The following laws become effective July 1, 2023, unless noted otherwise below.

  • Public Chapter 187 and Public Chapter 263 makes various technical changes to the laws governing a parent’s surrender of a child for adoption, parental-termination cases, foster care, etc.
  • Public Chapter 219 creates a new ground for termination when a parent is incarcerated. It keeps the existing ground that applies when a parent is sentenced to serve 10 or more years in prison and the child is under eight years old. But it adds a new ground that applies when a parent has been sentenced to serve only six or more years in prison and any another ground for termination applies. Since one must only prove one ground to terminate parental rights, does this new ground do anything?
  • Public Chapter 253 makes some technical changes to the maintenance of adoption records.
  • Public Chapter 293 makes technical changes to the requirement for a home study as part of an adoption.
  • Public Chapter 361 defines and regulates the work of an “adoption facilitator.”
  • Public Chapter 363 makes various technical changes to adoption and parental-termination statutes, including allowing an amended pleading to allege new four-month periods for grounds of abandonment such that each four-month period can be an independent ground for termination of parental rights. This became effective on April 17, 2023.
  • Public Chapter 373 creates another new ground for terminating parental rights when a child is under four years old. Usually, abandonment must occur over a four-month period. Now, when the child is less than four years old, abandonment need only occur over a three-month period.
  • Public Chapter 393 changes the trial court’s procedure in parental-termination cases. Before, the trial court had to enter its order within 30 days of the conclusion of the hearing. Now it must make a ruling within 30 days of the conclusion of the hearing and enter an order 30 days after its ruling, i.e., within 60 days after the conclusion of the hearing. This became effective on May 11, 2023.

Education. Public Chapter 353 requires schools to obtain a parent’s written consent before their child under 18 can “receive instruction of a sexual orientation curriculum or gender identity curriculum.” [Is there such a curriculum?] It also prohibits students from being a member of or participating in any activity of a school club or organization without the school first obtaining the parent’s written consent. This becomes effective July 1, 2023.

If you made it this far, congratulations! Go hiking deep in the woods to put your mind at ease. But before you go, please consider sharing this post using the buttons below.

Tennessee Legislative Update 2023 was last modified: June 29th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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