There are several new laws coming into effect in Tennessee that may be of interest to people involved in divorce, custody, or child support cases.
SB101 / HB90 Forgiving accrued principal and interest on child support.
Previously, child support was a requirement and any unpaid support would accumulate as an arrearage, which was required to be paid by the obligor parent. There was no way out of this requirement. A court couldn’t modify the debt, nor could the arrearage be discharged in a bankruptcy. This new law allows the debt to be modified if certain conditions are met.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. One of the reasons the child support rules were made to be as strict as they are now is at one time a parent could use superior negotiation power to press the other parent into an unfavorable child support arrangement. This was not always good for the children. The answer to that was to remove much of the opportunity for negotiation in the child support calculation. Children are expensive and the parents who created them should pay the support.
On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there with tens of thousands of dollars in child support arrearages that they will never be able to pay. The debt can cause the loss of the driver’s license, professional licenses, and passport. Ironically, this generally makes it very difficult for the obligor to maintain employment so he can pay the child support. Sometimes a little leniency may be appropriate.
SB161 / HB609 Divorce – marital property treated as separate property.
This new law states that balances of investments and retirement benefits that a person has acquired before the marriage is separate property. In addition, the appreciation of that separate property that occurs during the marriage is also to be considered separate property. Contributions to those funds/benefits that take place during the marriage (and the appreciation of those contributions) may still be considered marital property.
Previously, the value of retirement accounts or other investments that people brought into a marriage would be considered their own separate property, but the growth of the separate portion of those investments that took place during the marriage may have been considered a marital asset. This law clarifies that this is no longer the case. This is one less thing to negotiate about during a divorce.
SB440 / HB445 Removes right of revocation of the surrender of a child for adoption.
This one is interesting and harsh. Under previous law, when a person surrendered their parental rights to a child so the child could be adopted, the parent had 10 days to revoke the surrender and reclaim their child. In addition, if the tenth day fell on a weekend or holiday, the deadline was extended to the next business day.
Under this new law, the parent only has three calendar days to withdraw their consent to the surrender. The new law also removes the provision about the last day falling on a weekend or holiday. Therefore, if the parent signs the surrender on a Friday and the following Monday happens to be a holiday, the parent will probably not have an opportunity to revoke their surrender of the child.
SB681 / HB811 Restricts return of child to parent when removed due to drug abuse.
In a custody case not involving a state agency (such as DCS), when a child is removed from a parent’s custody primarily to that parent’s drug abuse, the child shall not be returned to that parent’s custody until the parent has complied with certain criteria.
SB684 / HB704 Permits certain elderly people to petition a court for visitation.
Gives great-grandparents the ability to ask a court for visitation with a great-grandchild. Grandparents have had this ability for a while. This extends that right to another generation.
SB697 / HB308 Termination of parental rights – sex trafficking conviction.
Provides a new ground for termination of parental rights in adoption cases. A parent’s rights may be terminated if that parent has been convicted of sex trafficking of children under federal or state law.
SB1089 / HB218 Custody of child when parent charged with aggravated child abuse.
Provides that when a parent is indicted for aggravated child abuse, child sexual abuse, or severe child sexual abuse, that parent is presumed to present a substantial risk of harm to his/her children and custody shall not be granted to that parent unless the presumption of substantial harm can be overcome.
SB720 / HB808 Evidence – video recording of a forensic interview with a child.
Allows court to admit into evidence a video recording of a forensic interview with a child conducted by a nonprofit child advocacy organization. This may be helpful in cases involving abuse to a child. I’ve used videos of forensic interviews performed by DCS employees, but it can be difficult to get DCS to participate in a case that wasn’t brought to the court by DCS. Allowing interviews by other organizations should help.
SB1121 / HB554 Parental rights with respect to child conceived during rape.
Prevents a person convicted of rape from having custody or visitation with a child conceived during the rape, unless the other parent waives the prohibitions. The statute does provide that the person convicted of rape may be required to pay child support even though they have no right to spend time with the child.
Contact me for help
If you need help with a divorce, custody, or child support issue, please contact me to find out how I can help you.