News

Johnson City Lawyer Remembered for Mentoring Others

Johnson City attorney Janie Lindamood died Aug. 13 at the age of 65. She is being remembered by colleagues as a fierce advocate for the children she represented in court as a juvenile and family law attorney and as a generous mentor to young lawyers. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Lindamood worked as a hairstylist, as a florist and in healthcare administration. She earned her law degree in 1996 from the Oklahoma City University Law School. The family is planning a celebration of life next month. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Coalition for Kids in Johnson City, which is part of the GoFund Me account set up in her name. The Johnson City Press has more on her life.

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Funding Jeopardized by New Juvenile DUI Law

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper is criticizing Tennessee Republicans for changes to the state’s underage drunken driving law that could lead to a loss of $60 million in federal highway funding, the Associated Press reports. The new law divides teens into two groups: 16 and 17 year olds, who remain subject to the federally-recommended limit of 0.02 blood alcohol content and 18 to 20 year olds, which have an allowable limit of 0.08 percent but are now subject to the same penalties as adult drivers. The bill’s sponsor said legislators were not warned of a potential conflict with federal standards but would work to address the issue. Humphrey on the Hill has the story.

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Juvenile Judges Honored by Judicial Council

Two juvenile court judges were recognized this week by the Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges for exceptional service in advancing juvenile justice, the AOC reports. Madison County Judge Christy R. Little and Henry County Judge Vicki Snyder were presented the McCain-Abernathy Memorial Award at the annual conference of the Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in Memphis. Both judges serve general sessions courts with juvenile jurisdiction.

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Task Force to Consider Juvenile Justice Department

Legislation approved in 2016 sets up a task force to study the feasibility of creating a Tennessee Department of Juvenile Justice, the Columbia Daily Herald reports. The task force will include legislators and members of the public who have experience or interest in children’s issues, as well as ex-officio members from different state departments. The law also calls on existing children’s services agencies to report on probation programs, recidivism rates, custodial data and system-wide information to guide the task force’s work.

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DA: Increasing Juvenile Age Would Have Broad Complications

Responding to a proposal by Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael to expand the jurisdiction of state juvenile courts to individuals up to 25 years old, District Attorney General Amy Weirich said such a change would prompt a long, complicated process. The issues that would need to be addressed include expanding the number of personnel, facilities and treatment programs. Michael acknowledged his proposal would prompt a “massive change” and that he does not have easy answers on how to pay for it, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Indigent Task Force Holds Final Hearing

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Indigent Representation Task Force held its final listening session today in Franklin, hearing from more than a dozen members of the private bar and parents of children in the child welfare system. The task force will meet in September to consider all comments and recommendations submitted during the tour and discuss the timing of presenting its own findings.

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Judge Wants to Expand Juvenile Court to 25 Year Olds

Speaking before members of the Rotary Club of Memphis on Tuesday, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael said he is behind a bill in the state legislature that would expand jurisdiction of the Shelby County Juvenile Court to those 25 years of age or younger. Currently, the court has jurisdiction over a child until he or she turns 19. Michael argued that the change would allow young adult offenders to stay in the juvenile justice system longer and receive needed treatment and rehabilitation, according to the Commercial Appeal.

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Dickson County CASA Holds First Awards Dinner

CASA of Dickson County recently held its inaugural Champions for Children Awards Dinner and recognized state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, for her contributions to local children in need, the Tennessean reports. The group also announced a new community service award that will be presented next year. Board chair and TBA Government Relations Committee Chair Meagan Frazier Grosvenor addressed attendees, sharing how her experience serving on the local Foster Care Review Board led her and several colleagues to establish a CASA agency in the county. The group, which is in the final stages of formation, is looking for a full-time executive director.

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New ABA President to Focus on Veterans, Election Issues

Atlanta lawyer Linda Klein, senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson, was sworn in as president of the ABA yesterday and outlined her goals for the year, which include a focus on veterans’ legal needs, promotion of voting in the upcoming election and support for quality education. A new ABA Commission on Veterans’ Legal Services will provide resources for local legal groups to serve veterans and their families, and explore ways to provide legal services at VA medical facilities. Tennessee will be represented on the commission by TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur. The voting initiative, ABA Votes 2016, will provide a state-by-state summary of voter laws as well as resources lawyers can use to encourage participation. Finally, a new education commission will study ways to address substandard education in rural and inner city communities and improve opportunities for children with disabilities.

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4th Annual Balloon Fiesta to Benefit CASA Monroe

The fourth annual Muscadine Balloon Fiesta will take place Sept. 23 and 24 at the Tsali Notch Vineyard, 140 Harrison Rd. in Madisonville. The event will feature balloon rides, live music, food, games and an inflatable Kid’s Zone. Each night at dusk, 20 hot air balloons will be lighted for a Balloon Glow set to music. On Friday, the event will run from 3-10 p.m. On Saturday, the event will run from 1-10 p.m. All proceeds will support CASA Monroe.

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Lawyers Sought for Women’s Empowerment Conference

Volunteer lawyers are needed for an upcoming Women’s Empowerment Conference organized by Women Overcoming Many Battles Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that seeks to help women overcome life’s challenges. The conference will take place July 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mt. Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. Attorneys are needed to lead 15-minute presentations on child support enforcement and wrongful eviction and participate in a general question and answer session. Lawyers also are needed to provide brief legal advice in one-on-one meetings with the women. Those interested in helping should contact AOC Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Mills

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Report Alleges Little Has Changed for Memphis Juveniles

An in-depth profile of the Shelby County Juvenile Court system published by the nonprofit organization Next City argues that four years after the Department of Justice found that Memphis treated black juvenile offenders more harshly than white peers “little has changed.” The piece acknowledges that there has been progress, but alleges there is still “a serious lack of movement” to address racial disparities. The report also found “across-the-board deterioration … since the transfer of the [juvenile] facility to the sheriff” and continued patterns of trying black juveniles as adults.

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Washington County Family Justice Center Opens

Thursday marked the grand opening of the Family Justice Center in Johnson City, News Channel 11 reports. The center serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse, bringing victims’ services together under one roof, site coordinator Heather Brack said. Agencies with representatives at the center include the Johnson City Police, Washington County Sheriff, Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter, Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee and the First Judicial District Attorney General’s office.

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State Leaders Participate in National Child Safety Initiative

Tennessee was one of eight states selected to participate in the Three Branch Institute to Improve Child Safety and Prevent Child Fatalities. The Florida event included sessions on identifying and assessing at-risk populations, parental substance abuse and opioid impact on child welfare. Attendees from Tennessee included Amy Coble and Michael Cull; Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis; Sen. Ferrell Haile, R- Gallatin; and AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. The AOC has more.

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Coordinator Named for Sullivan Family Justice Center

A site coordinator has been named for Sullivan County’s future Family Justice Center, the Herald Courier reports. Karen Turnage Boyd, who previously worked in private practice and as a mediator, will guide the center through its developmental phase. Tennessee currently has seven family justice centers. The Sullivan County location, which is set to be fully operational in July 2018, will be number eight.

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Medical Emergency Raises Questions of Courtroom Protocol

When a young man in Shelby County Juvenile Court last week became violently ill -- apparently having a seizure-- it raised questions about what procedures are in place to deal with such events in the court. “It was traumatic for everybody to continue on as if this person didn’t exist,” said attorney Mozella Ross who was not in the courtroom but talked to lawyers who were. Court proceedings did stop as soon as paramedics arrived to tend to the patient, WREG reports. Ross said the incident shows the court needs standard protocols to handle medical emergencies in court.

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CASA Hosts Summer Wines Party

CASA of East Tennessee will host its Summer Wines Party Aug. 6 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Brabham Home, 621 Scenic Dr., Knoxville, 37919. The evening will feature summer foods, chilled drinks, raffle prizes and live music. Tickets are $75 per person and $125 per couple and may be purchased on the group’s website. For sponsorship information, contact Britney Sink, 865-329-3399.

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Tips for Using the TBA Juvenile & Children’s Electronic Forum

  • This electronic forum has been established for use by members of the TBA Juvenile & Children’s Law Section. All members are opted-in to the subscription list. Posts should generally be limited to topics appropriate to the section.
  • Posts are not moderated. Members of the Section are generally responsible for maintaining the usefulness of the dialogue, though TBA staff and the section chair have the ability to remove members from the list if necessary.
  • To send a message to this electronic forum, the email address is: juvenile-and-children-section@tba2.org
  • If you send a message to this email address, every member of this e-forum will receive your message, so please do not respond (say thank you, etc.) unless you are exchanging information. Use the e-forum to ask questions and send information.
  • To chat with one person, email them separately. (Responding to a forum email is the same as “reply to all.”)
  • When replying to the digest email, please do not include the entire digest in your reply. This can cause an email to be rejected because of file size. It may also difficult to follow the history of an email discussion through a digest post.
  • If you decide to opt-out of this electronic forum or wish to change your preference to a once-a-day digest, you may do so through your TBA member profile on TBA.org. After logging in, you can select the “Email, Notifications & Newsletters” tab on your profile page, then select “Manage your Forum Preferences.”

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Memphis Law Hosting Juvenile Justice Conference

The University of Memphis School of Law will host the National Juvenile Justice Network conference July 27 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Juvenile justice advocates from across the country will be attending and organizers have invited law school students, faculty and staff to attend free of charge. Registration for the event closes tomorrow.

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Letter from the Chair

Dear Colleagues,

Happy July!  I certainly hope you are finding yourselves in the middle of a summer balanced well with family, friends, fun and rewarding work!

As we kick off this TBA year, I am excited to work with you in my new position as Chair of our Juvenile and Children’s Law Section.

Already, we have a lot going on!  Be sure to mark your calendars for our regular CLE in December, scheduled for December 1, 2016.  It will be held at the Tennessee Bar Center on Fourth Street in Nashville, across from Printer’s Alley.  Remember that your TBA membership affords you three free CLE hours. This one has always been useful for those of us in this section.

The Immigration Section has generously agreed to help us learn more about how immigration is affecting our clients and our courts, and how we can be better prepared to represent children and families who are in any phase of immigration.  As part of that, we are in the very early stages of collaboration to develop a Bench Book to help all of us better address questions of immigration in our work. In the meantime, there is an online CLE available through the TBA website.

We are also talking to the General Practice Section to see how we can be a resource for those attorneys who might not regularly practice in the world of Juvenile Law.

And we are exploring a ListServ that will allow our section to communicate and share ideas, resources, and theories of law in the same way the TBA Talk Digest allows our entire organization to collaborate.

I’m very excited about these resources!!

But I’m a sole practitioner with a passion for GAL work from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. 

What do you need?

This month, let’s talk about those questions that are hard to answer relative to your juvenile practice.   Wondering about trauma?  Maybe a jurisidiction issue?  Tell us!  Let's find some answers together.

Send your questions to Christy Gibson, TBA Sections and Committees Coordinator.  

While you’re at it, please let us know how you best get that information. Would you like CLEs in a more fun environment? More online options? Interactive classes online? How can we make this a better resource for you?

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Best,

Stacie Odeneal 

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Yes Virginia, There Is a Clause

... That Allows the Juvenile Court to Transfer Disposition in Dependency and Neglect Cases

In Tennessee, we surely all agree that unruly, delinquent, and dependency and neglect petitions fall squarely within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court. But we seem to disagree as to when and how that exclusive jurisdiction might be transferred. 

Can another court ever assume jurisdiction of the proceedings?

Yes. Here’s how.

Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

Petitions alleging dependency and neglect, unruly and delinquencies are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-103(a)(1). This jurisdiction continues until the child in question is no longer a juvenile under the law, the case is dismissed, an adoption petition is filed or custody determination is transferred to another court.[1] 

The procedure and parameters for transfer of a juvenile case are set forth in Tenn. Code Ann.  §37-1-112. The first clause allows a Juvenile Court to transfer to another Juvenile Court based on the child’s residency or a change in the child’s residency. The second allows the Juvenile Court to transfer a case, after making findings of fact, to another court where a custody proceeding has commenced.

The first logical procedural opportunity for a custody determination is the dispositional phase, but a custody determination may occur at any post-adjudicatory phase, like in a petition to modify filed post-divorce in a Chancery Court proceeding. These custody determinations can be made by another Juvenile Court, Chancery Court, Circuit Court or a General Sessions Court exercising domestic relations jurisdiction.

Transferring the case

Logically, a juvenile case in one county may be transferred to the Juvenile Court of another county, where the child resides.[2] This frequently occurs when a child is alleged to have committed delinquent acts in one county, but lives in another. But a county-to-county transfer can also occur when a child moves during the proceedings.

A transfer can also occur to other Chancery, Circuit or General Sessions courts in the same, or different, counties pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-112(b).  A Juvenile Court judge or magistrate may transfer the case if:

  • The Juvenile Court has made an affirmative adjudication that the child is dependent and neglected, unruly and/or delinquent; and
  • There is a proceeding involving the child’s custody either commenced or then-pending in the Circuit, Chancery or General Sessions court; and
  • The child is not in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services.

The Juvenile Court may initiate the transfer on its own motion, or upon a motion by any party. To transfer the case, the court must:

  • First make specific findings of fact per Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-129(a)(2), requiring the court to determine whether a dependent and neglected child is the victim of severe abuse; and
  • Order essential services, if any are required; and
  • Find that the transfer is in the best interest of the child or children; and
  • Find that the transfer promotes judicial economy; and/or
  • Find that the receiving court is a more reasonable or convenient forum; and/or
  • Find other good cause exists for the transfer.

After the Juvenile Court orders the transfer, the juvenile court clerk should cause a certified copy of the entire Juvenile Court file, including all records and documents pertaining to the case, to be filed with the receiving court. The transferring court may communicate with the receiving court relative to the case, but to do so is not required by statute.  Parties wishing to appeal the transfer may do so by appealing to the court of appeals consistent with Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.

When and Why

It may seem obvious now, but this procedural tool is a relatively new statutory feature that arose from an accidental jurisdictional calamity in Robertson County in the late 1990s. The Branch twins were only about a year old when they were adjudicated as dependent and neglected by the Robertson County Juvenile Court, having been found to have been the victims of shaken baby syndrome.  The Robertson County Juvenile Court returned the children to the custody of the mother with some limitations, including some language that restricted the mother’s leaving the jurisdiction until the parties’ anticipated divorce was finalized.

The parties were finally divorced in 1996 by the Robertson County Chancery Court, and mother was again awarded primary custody of the girls by chancery court order.  The peace was short-lived and father filed a petition to modify the post-divorce custody arrangement in the Robertson County Chancery Court.  After a trial on the merits in 1998, the father was awarded custody by the chancery court, and mother appealed.

In addition to four other grounds for appeal, the mother cleverly posed the question whether the Robertson County Chancery Court possessed jurisdiction to make custodial awards in light of the fact the children were previously subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the Robertson County Juvenile Court.  The Court of Appeals decided mother’s point was a savvy one, and vacated the order of the chancery court. Branch  v. Thompson, 2000 Tenn. App. LEXIS 442 at 2 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000).

The Branch court relied on Green v. George, a 1999 court of appeals decision that held the Juvenile Court’s jurisdiction expired only when the child reached age 18, except in those extraordinary circumstances when the court’s jurisdiction is continued until the child reaches age 19. 

The jurisdictional debacle in Green was no less challenging.  The parties had been divorced by the Gibson County Chancery Court. Citing allegations of physical abuse by the mother-custodian, the father filed a number of pleadings in chancery court seeking to restrain visitation between mother and the child, and change custody from mother to father.  Simultaneously the state filed a petition alleging the child was dependent and neglected in Gipson County Juvenile Court, and obtaining a protective order that placed the child in foster care, then with the father pending adjudication.  Ultimately the Juvenile Court granted custody to mother, and returned the parties to the custody and visitation schedule previously ordered by the chancery court. The court of appeals ruled that once the child was adjudicated as dependent and neglected, the Juvenile Court assumed jurisdiction that could not be transferred back to the chancery court. Green v. George, 1999 Tenn. App. LEXIS 277 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999).

Put differently, both the Branch and Green courts held that once adjudicated a juvenile case, always a juvenile case, so long as a child at issue is still younger than 18 or 19 years of age, depending on the court’s finding. Using Green, the Branch court further held that no transfer of jurisdiction could exist, under law or by consent. Lacking a statutory mechanism to do so, the parties could not consent to the chancery court assuming jurisdiction of the children’s custody.

Pursuant to laws in effect in 2000 and years prior, the Juvenile Court assumed jurisdiction at adjudication and maintained it until the child aged out, per Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-103. This limitation was supported by the procedure set forth by Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-112 which allowed for transfers only between Juvenile Courts in different counties based on residency.

However, in 2001, the law was amended to its modern state, granting the Juvenile Court jurisdiction until the child ages out, an adoption petition is filed, or the case is transferred to another court exercising domestic relations.

Using the Transfer

Today exclusive jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court is assumed and exercised through the preliminary and adjudicatory phases. If the petition is dismissed at either the preliminary or adjudicatory hearings, then the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court is terminated, and no further jurisdictional questions exist.

However, after adjudication, the Juvenile Court continues to maintain jurisdiction, until the child ages out, an adoption petition is filed or the case is transferred.  Upon motion of the court or any party, the court may transfer the case to another court with jurisdiction to make custody determinations.

The court should always make written findings of facts as to adjudication, including a factual basis for a determination of dependency and neglect, and whether the child has been the victim of severe abuse. The Juvenile Court can then make a disposition or postpone the disposition for good cause. The court can also transfer the case to another court for a custody determination.

Once a motion is made to transfer the case, the court should also make written findings of fact as to the nature of the motion, a finding that there is a pending custody action in another court situated to make custody determinations, and a basis for the transfer. For instance, transferring the case will likely result in more efficient judicial economy, having the case consolidated to one court.

Once transferred, the receiving court assumes the standing of the Juvenile Court. If no disposition has been made, then the receiving court assumes the responsibilities set forth by Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-130, §37-1-131, and/or §37-1-132. If prior disposition has been made, then the receiving court must at least consider Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-139, requiring a best interest finding before modifying or vacated the disposition.

This transfer also implies the receiving court assumes the posture of the Juvenile Court in making further disposition.  As such, the question of appointment of counsel should be addressed by the court. Though the transferring rule does not explicitly set forth grounds for appointment of counsel, the implication of applicable statutes and rules of juvenile procedure, when considered in concert with each other, require the receiving court to consider continuation of the rights to representation.

If the case is transferred for initial jurisdiction, then logically the child would be entitled to an appointment of a guardian ad litem or attorney pursuant to Tenn. R. Juv. Pro. 37. Parents may also be entitled to appointment of counsel, though private counsel may have been retained to file the underlying “pending action," and thus appointment of counsel would likely be unnecessary or inappropriate. Alternatively, counsel may be appointed to parents for that portion of the pending custody proceeding that arises from the dependency and neglect petition, pursuant to Tenn. S. Ct. R. 13, and subject to a finding the parties are indigent. 

There is no clear requirement that the court consider appointment of counsel for parents in those circumstances where a modification is considered after an initial disposition. Pleadings to modify based upon the relative fitness of the parents, or needs of the child would appear to fall within the considerations of Tenn. Code Ann. §36-1-101(2)(B), and appointment of counsel would be inappropriate. The court should also consider whether appointment of a guardian ad litem would be required consistent with Tenn. S. Ct. R. 40, or necessary at all pursuant to Tenn. S. Ct. R. 40a.

While the statute is relatively new, and perhaps a bit unfamiliar, it is another tool in the practitioner’s tool box. And much like Santa Claus, it promises a bit of a gift to litigants and the court in the forms of judicial economy, consistency in review and implementation and reduced litigation costs.  


[1] Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-103(c)

[2] Tenn. Code Ann. §37-1-112(a)

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New Adoption and Termination Laws

What You Need to Know

*By Dawn Coppock

Two major adoption and termination of parental rights bills passed in Tennessee this year and are now in effect. These bills include both the mundane and monumental. I have included each new section.  I have put the important and monumental provisions in bold, and included just enough context to flesh out why the changes were made.  But, I have included the mundane as well.  Complete citations are included to permit deeper study.

Pub. Ch. 636 – Administration Bill   Effective March 23, 2016

T.C.A. § 36-1-111(j)  Adds deputy warden and notary at a prison to be surrender witnesses in addition to the warden.

The primary goal of the following 4 sections is to clarify the adoption code sufficiently to fully implement the three-tiered system for classification of fathers, legal, putative and biological. T.C.A. § 36-1-117(a) and (c) requires that legal parents and putative father’s parental rights must be terminated before an adoption can occur. If there is not a legal or putative father, the adoption may proceed without termination of a father, even though obviously there must be a biological father.

Also original to the 1996 complete redraft of the adoption code but until now largely inoperable, was a two-tiered system of grounds for termination of parental rights. In addition to the grounds for termination of parental rights that apply to all parents, putative fathers are subject to a set of grounds that are aimed at the man’s failure to grasp the opportunity to parent his child as described in Lehr v. Robertson 463 U.S. 248; 103 S. Ct 2985; 77 L. Ed. 2d 614; 1983 U.S. LEXIS 92; 51 U.S.L.W. 5010 (June 27, 1983).  A Tennessee Supreme Court 2010 case, Bernard T. 319 S.W. 3d 586, (Tenn. 2010) ruled that the (g)(9), “putative father” grounds only applied to men who were not putative fathers.  Bernard T. has been a difficult case to apply and was directly critiqued for being opposed to the plain language of the statute. In Re. Ashton B. (W.S. Ct. App., March 15, 2016).  The combined effect of the following four legislative changes is to further clarify the law on classes of fathers and the grounds applicable to each, and to thereby legislatively overrule Bernard T.

T.C.A. § 36-1-102  Defines “Putative Father” as biological or alleged biological father of a child who, at the time of the filing of a petition to terminate the parental rights of such person or, if no such petition is filed, at the time of the filing of a petition to adopt a child, meets at least one (1) criteria set out in 36-1-117 (c) and is not a legal parent.

T.C.A. § 36-1-117   Deletes “biological” before the word putative in all T.C.A. § 36-1-117 references in order to clarify that “biological” and “putative” are two different classes of parents that may or may not occur together.

T.C.A. § 36-1-102 (28)  Legal parent definition modified – if a presumption of legal parentage is rebutted then they need not be noticed and the person’s parental rights need not be terminated.

T.C.A. § 36-1-113 (g)(9)(A)  If a person is a putative father at the time the termination of parental rights or adoption is filed his parental rights may be terminated based upon (g) (9) grounds.

Pub. Ch. 919 – Attorney’s Bill   effective July 1, 2016

This chapter was prepared and passed by the collaborative efforts of termination and adoption practitioners across Tennessee, and corrects errors and provides escapes from some legal rabbit holes.  While some of the changes are monumental in terms of adoption practice, this section does not change Tennessee termination and adoption policy.

T.C.A. § 36-1-102 (1)(A)(iv)This change addresses the difficulty of pursuing the abandonment ground against the frequently incarcerated. The change permits the accumulation of periods of liberty between incarcerations to accrue to create the four (4) month abandonment period when four (4) uninterrupted months of liberty do not exist.  

T.C.A. § 36-1-102  Codifies the ordinary meaning of physical custody to end the occasional litigation of the point.

T.C.A. § 36-1-111(a)(1)  Standardizes inconsistent language and affirms that homestudies are required prior to surrenders.

T.C.A. § 36-1-111(r)(1)(A)(i)  Ends a birth parent’s child support obligation upon surrender, rather than upon adoption, to remove a disincentive to settle a contested termination of parental rights by surrender.

T.C.A. § 36-1-111(x)  Creates a method in the adoption context, for a father to rebut the presumption of paternity created by being married to the mother, provided that he is not the biological father. He may sign a form before a notary and that, plus “other credible proof,” which may include a sworn statement of the mother, allows the adoption to proceed without termination of his parental rights. The form is set out in the statute.

T.C.A.§ 36-1-112 (a)(1)(A)  Establishes a standardized method of counting the three (3) day surrender revocation period as set out in TRCP 6.01, excluding weekends and holidays, and requiring that the last day be a business day.

T.C.A. § 36-1-113(b)(1)  Adds “physical” to “having custody of the child” along with the definition of physical custody. This removes ambiguity about whether licensed child-placing agencies and others with children in their care may be legally active on behalf of the children.

T.C.A. § 36-1-113(g)(9)(A)(vi)Deletes, “by the child’s mother” from a notice provision, permitting wider sources of notice that a woman may be expecting a man’s child.

T.C.A. § 36-1-113(g)(9)(B)(i)  Sets out the technical requirements of notice to a man that he may be the father of a child.  This section clarifies that this notice can be given at any time after conception. Notice, plus his inaction for 30 days, particularly failure to file a parentage action, serves as a basis for termination of his parental rights under existing law.  The law is now clear that, in many cases, a man should file a pre-birth parentage action to protect his parental rights.

T.C.A. § 36-1-115(d)  Allows non-residents to petition for adoption in the Tennessee County where they received guardianship of a child.

T.C.A. § 36-1-116(a)  Standardizes inconsistent language and affirms that homestudies are good for one year.

T.C.A. § 36-1-116(h)  Standardizes inconsistent language and affirms that UCCJEA does not apply to adoptions in Tennessee. Also adds that UCCJEA does not apply to voluntary consents either, and affirms prior law that UCCJEA applies to involuntary terminations of parental rights.

T.C.A. § 36-1-117(w)(a)  Answers to termination actions shall be signed by the respondent and sworn, like original petitions.

T.C.A. § 36-1-118  “Prospective adoptive parents” changed to “prospective adoptive parents or a licensed child-placing agency,” and

T.C.A. § 36-1-118(c)(2) “The persons” is changed to “ the persons or entity.” Removes inadvertent barriers to licensed child-placing agencies being legally active on behalf of children.

T.C.A. § 36-1-124 (d)  Notice of appeal filed in termination of parental rights actions shall be signed by the appellant.  This prevents appeals without the appellant’s knowledge or consent.

T.C.A. § 36-1-123  Restraining orders and protective orders, protective of children who are adopted, will not be automatically dissolved by a final order of adoption. Those orders may be enforced in the court that issued the order or the adoption court.

T.C.A. § 36-1-116 (e)  Petitioners’ counsel may review documents filed by public or private agencies in an adoption action upon order of the court. Any party may move for such an order. The agency may, upon good cause and with a court order, restrict such information.  This permits attorneys for petitioners in DCS and private agency adoptions to conduct a review of the foundational termination documents before adoptions are finalized.

T.C.A.§ 36-1-116(f)(2) Adoptions and terminations suspend custody, visitation and guardianship regardless of the stage of adjudication.  This section re-states and clarifies very similar language in the same section that was not enforced in a recent court opinion. In re Hailey S., 2015 Tenn. LEXIS 924 (Tenn. Nov. 16, 2015).

T.C.A. § 36-1-113(g)(14)  A new ground for termination of parental rights is established:  “A legal parent or guardian has failed to manifest, by act or omission, an ability and willingness to personally assume legal and physical custody or financial responsibility of the child, and placing the child in the person’s legal and physical custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the physical or psychological welfare of the child.”

Are these bills good? Absolutely. Like commercial paper law, in termination of parental rights cases the cost of uncertainty in the law is too high to tolerate. In Tennessee termination law, the cost is primarily a cost to children rather than a cost to banks. Standardizing and restating provisions, while dull, minimizes uncertainty. The provisions around classifying fathers and clarifying what grounds apply to what father provides certainty and a balanced approach that has eluded Tennessee for 20 years, and may counter the long-term, lackadaisical approach some men take to their children or possible children. Proceeding to adoption without terminating the rights of unknown fathers, and a two-tiered system of grounds for fathers, legal vs. putative were original objectives of the 1996 adoption code redraft that was not fully operational until now.  The Tennessee approach to unwed fathers substantially exceeds the minimum due process floor set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lehr v. Robertson 463 U.S. 248; 103 S. Ct 2985; 77 L. Ed. 2d 614; 1983 U.S. LEXIS 92; 51 U.S.L.W. 5010 (June 27, 1983).  Sound and workable law, balancing the interests of multiple parties, took a while, but it has happened.

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*Dawn Coppock is the author of Coppock on Tennessee Adoption Law, the next edition will be available from Celtic Cat Publishing by December 2016. Dawn practices adoption law from Strawberry Plains, Tennessee.

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Precedent Set for Dogs in Courtrooms

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected a claim that the presence of a comfort dog was "overly prejudicial" to a defendant in a rape trial. The case comes from the appeal of a man convicted of raping a 10-year-old in DeKalb County. Prosecutors wrote detailed guidelines for the dog’s courtroom presence during the trial, including instructions that the dog be invisible to everyone but the victim. The appeals court upheld the local court’s decision, citing case evidence from other states that allow service dogs in courtrooms. “This was the first case in Tennessee for a dog to be allowed in the courtroom to provide comfort to the victim,” said Jennifer Wilkerson, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center. With this win under their belts, prosecutors and child advocacy center directors across the state are planning to introduce service dogs into their own courtrooms, the Herald Citizen reports.

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Judge: Community Action Key for Juvenile Justice Reform

As the Shelby County Juvenile Court is working to stay in compliance with federal directives, Judge Dan Michael says community involvement is critical for the next steps on juvenile reform and diversion. Through the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), Michael is encouraging community members to learn more and be active advocates, News 5 reports. “I need your involvement,” he said. “If we don’t get involved as a community, we won’t solve this problem as a community.”

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Lee: Court Continually Seeking to Improve Services

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee spoke to the Sevierville Rotary this week to update the community on ways the court is modernizing and striving to make itself more accessible. According to the Mountain Press, she highlighted efforts such as allowing e-filing of court documents, improving access for indigent clients, exploring increased pay for indigent representation, consolidating complex business matters in one court, and streamlining the juvenile court system. Lee told local leaders that the court is committed to continually improving its services. “We need to be looking at how we do things to see if we can do them better,” she said.

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