Several important new laws concerning divorce and custody were just put into effect on July 1st. Some are more important than others, but family law attorneys in Tennessee need to be aware of the changes and possibly working additional language into new parenting plans.
Parenting plans and rights of parents
I’ve recently posted about the changes to the factors a court must consider when determining custody and a parenting schedule for minor children. There are some important changes to the parent’s bill of rights too. While the changes to the custody factors was really more of a clarification than a substantial change to the law, there are some new provisions in the parent’s rights that people need to be aware of. Particularly those involving how phone calls from the non-visiting parent are handled.
Debt associated with domestic abuse
Now, if a court finds that there had been domestic abuse within a marriage, debt associated with batterers’ intervention and rehabilitation shall be borne by the abuser solely. One would hope this would be the case anyway, since a court has some discretion when dividing the debts during a divorce. However, this law may be helpful in appropriate cases.
Medical decisions for minor children
Medical personnel can find themselves in a tough spot if a child needs medical care, but his parents are not available to authorize medical treatment. This new statute defines who may step in to make medical decisions for a child if nobody else with authority is available. The law also puts certain limits on the decisions these people may make. For example, the person would not be able to withhold life sustaining procedures from the child.
Interestingly, the statute also makes it possible to exclude certain people from ever having this authority by a court order. So, if you have a relative who has demonstrated that they do not have your child’s best interests in mind, that person could be excluded from this authority in a parenting plan.
No discrimination against disabled parents in custody determinations
This law actually went into effect last year, but I didn’t cover it and it’s important enough to mention.
The physical and mental health of the parties is a factor that courts must consider when crafting a parenting schedule. However, a parent with a disability may find himself treated unfairly over a physical limitation beyond his control. This new law requires that before the disability can be used as cause to limit that parents time with the children, it must be shown by clear and convincing evidence that the disability causes a substantial risk of harm to the children.
“Clear and convincing evidence” is a heightened standard of proof that is much more difficult to achieve than what is normally required in a family law setting. This has the effect of giving the disabled individual significant protection in these proceedings.
I do have some serious issues with this new law, concerning how sexual preference, sexual orientation, and gender identity were excluded from this protection. There will be more detail in a future post, but for now let me say that I believe a lot of people who dress as the opposite sex, or identify as the gender opposite to which they were born might find being categorized with pedophiles offensive.
If you have a case involving any of these issues, contact me to find out how I might be able to help you.