New Tennessee Law Clarifies Custody and Parental Rights

New Tennessee Law Clarifies Custody and Parental Rights

In the last legislative session, our lawmakers decided to clarify the factors that Tennessee family courts must consider when developing parenting schedules for parents of minor children.  The lawmakers state in the bill that the prior factors caused “confusion and inconsistent application of the law”, and that “the factors that determine custodial arrangements … for minor children should be consistent.”

GavelThe bill also made some changes to the statute known as the “parents bill of rights”, discussed below.

How a court determines custody

The legislature did not intend to significantly change how the parenting time is divided between parents of a child.  The intention was simply to reword the existing factors to give judges and lawyers more clarity and predictability when cases are decided by a court.  I’ve already updated a prior blog post about how custody is determined with the new statutory language.

The one significant change is the new law makes it clear that confidential mental health records of a party may be acquired as part of discovery.  Furthermore, a court may order a party to submit to a psychological exam, if necessary.  This will be helpful in cases where the mental stability of one parent is in question.

Parents bill of rights

The law also made significant changes to the rights parents have when a child is visiting with the other parent.  The law expands the parent’s ability to make unimpeded and unmonitored phone calls with the child, to send mail (which probably includes email), to receive information from the child’s school, as well as others.  Here is the complete text of the new provisions:

(i) The right to unimpeded telephone conversations with the child at least twice a week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations. The parent exercising parenting time shall furnish the other parent with a telephone number where the child may be reached at the days and time specified in the parenting plan or other court order or, where days and times are not specified, at reasonable times;

(ii) The right to send mail to the child which the other parent shall not destroy, deface, open or censor. The parent exercising parenting time shall deliver all letters, packages and other material sent to the child by the other parent as soon as received and shall not interfere with their delivery in any way, unless otherwise provided by law or court order;

(iii) The right to receive notice and relevant information as soon as practicable but within twenty-four (24) hours of any hospitalization, major illness or injury, or death of the child. The parent exercising parenting time when such event occurs shall notify the other parent of the event and shall provide all relevant healthcare providers with the contact information for the other parent;

(iv) The right to receive directly from the child’s school any educational records customarily made available to parents. Upon request from one parent, the parent enrolling the child in school shall provide to the other parent as soon as available each academic year the name, address, telephone number and other contact information for the school. In the case of children who are being homeschooled, the parent providing the homeschooling shall advise the other parent of this fact along with the contact information of any sponsoring entity or other entity involved in the child’s education, including access to any individual student records or grades available online. The school or homeschooling entity shall be responsible, upon request, to provide to each parent records customarily made available to parents. The school may require a written request which includes a current mailing address and may further require payment of the reasonable costs of duplicating such records. These records include copies of the child’s report cards, attendance records, names of teachers, class schedules, and standardized test scores;

(v) Unless otherwise provided by law, the right to receive copies of the child’s medical, health or other treatment records directly from the treating physician or healthcare provider. Upon request from one parent, the parent who has arranged for such treatment or health care shall provide to the other parent the name, address, telephone number and other contact information of the physician or healthcare provider. The keeper of the records may require a written request including a current mailing address and may further require payment of the reasonable costs of duplicating such records. No person who receives the mailing address of a requesting parent as a result of this requirement shall provide such address to the other parent or a third person;

(vi) The right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made about such parent or such parent’s family by the other parent to or in the presence of the child;

(vii) The right to be given at least forty-eight (48) hours notice, whenever possible, of all extracurricular school, athletic, church activities and other activities as to which parental participation or observation would be appropriate, in the opportunity to participate in or observe them. The parent who has enrolled the child in each such activity shall advise the other parent of the activity and provide contact information for the person responsible for its scheduling so that the other parent may make arrangements to participate or observe whenever possible, unless otherwise provided by law or court order;

(viii) The right to receive from the other parent, in the event the other parent leaves the state with the minor child or children for more than forty-eight (48) hours, an itinerary which shall include the planned dates of departure and return, the intended destinations and mode of travel and telephone numbers. The parent traveling with the child or children shall provide this information to the other parent so as to give that parent reasonable notice; and

(ix) The right to access and participation in the child’s education on the same bases that are provided to all parents including the right of access to the child during lunch and other school activities; provided, that the participation or access is legal and reasonable; however, access must not interfere with the school’s day-to-day operations or with the child’s educational schedule.

It’s important to note that these changes are not retroactive and do not automatically modify court orders that are already in effect.  Anytime your order is modified in any way, your attorney should make sure to include the new language.

If you have a custody case, you feel like your prior parenting plan needs to be modified, or you have any other family law related issue, contact me to find out how I can help you.