News

Foreign Adoptions in U.S. Down 14 Percent

The number of foreign children adopted by U.S. families fell 14 percent last year, The Washington Post reports. The U.S. State Department this month issued a report showing that there were only 4,059 foreign adoptions in 2018, compared to 4,714 the previous year. Although there was an increase in adoption of children from India and Columbia, a decline in adoptions from China and Ethiopia negated the increase. The U.S. is responsible for about half of all foreign adoptions.

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Clergy Sign Proclamation Opposing Religious Exemption for Adoption Agencies

A number of religious leaders in Tennessee are taking a stand against legislation allowing exemptions for adoption agencies to refuse services to LGBT clients, The Tennessean reports. The Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBT advocacy group, assisted with the pronouncement that was signed by more than 100 clergy. Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders regarding the move said:  "These six bills attack our marriages, ability to form families, exist in public spaces, and they even undermine our ability to advocate with our own city governments for protection against discrimination.” One of the bills in question — SB1304 — will be considered by the  Senate Judiciary Committee on March 26.

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Safe Baby Court Program Sees First Graduates

The Safe Baby Courts program saw its first three graduates during a recent ceremony held at the Coffee County General Sessions court. Since many children are placed under court jurisdiction because of their parents’ substance abuse disorders, Safe Baby Courts typically work on rehabilitating parents so that families can be reunited. “I’m so happy for them and their children. It’s been a pleasure and a blessing to work with you and see you change your life and reunite your family,” Judge Timothy Brock said at the event.
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LGBT Law Annual Forum 2019

Register now for the TBA LGBT Law Annual Forum to take place on June 21 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. Timely topics for this year’s program will include laws concerning conversion therapy, an inside look at Vanderbilt’s Clinic for Transgender Health, ethical considerations regarding discrimination and employment law, ending the day with an LGBT community advocacy panel open to the public. The forum will be held in conjunction with the 2019 Nashville Pride Festival, allowing attendees to take advantage of the fun and activities surrounding the celebration. Don’t miss what guarantees to be an insightful forum and one of the nation’s premier Pride festivals! Here’s the key info:
 
When: Friday, June 21, registration begins at 11 a.m., CDT
Where: Tennessee Bar Center, 221 Fourth Ave. N., Nashville
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Family Law Forum 2019

Register now for the TBA Family Law Forum 2019. In this program, we will dig deep into recent changes affecting the practice area, including high-profile cases, legislative updates, changes in domestic violence law and best practices in Juvenile Court. We will also have a renowned psychiatrist discussing "The Scientific Basis for Parental Alienation." Don’t miss this opportunity to brush up on the intangibles, develop new tools and meet lawyers of a similar focus. Here are the key details:

When: Wednesday, May 15, Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.
Where: Tennessee Bar Center, 221 Fourth Ave. N., Nashville
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U.S. Senate Democrats Support Increase, Changes to Child Tax Credits

U.S. Senate Democrats are rallying around a bill that intends to make strides in tackling child poverty, Vox.com reports. Initially introduced in 2017, the American Family Act would expand the child tax credit to $3,000 per year for income-qualifying families with a child ages six to 16, and $3,600 per year for families with a child aged from zero to five. The benefits would be distributed monthly, in advance, to help the families with budgeting concerns.

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TDHS Announces Increase for Child Care Assistance

The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) on Monday announced that it will raise the weekly reimbursement rates for providers in its Child Care Certificate Program for the first time in over a decade.  The program – Smart Steps — aids parents who are working or pursuing secondary education who meet certain eligibility requirements, and teen parents enrolled in high school. Regarding the increase, TDHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes said: “Quality child care is essential to the development of children … These rate increases are a specific investment in Tennessee’s community of child care providers and will promote access to early childhood environments that are safe, healthy and educationally rich.” The new rates will see a 35 percent increase for infant and toddler care and a 20 percent increase for pre-school and school-age care.

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Gov. Lee Proposes School Voucher Program

Gov. Bill Lee's plan to create an education savings account program for Tennessee students may shape up to be one of the more controversial proposals addressed in his first State of the State address, The Tennessean reports. The program would use public funds to create a spending account, where the money can then be used for private school or homeschooling. Detractors argue that this takes money away from schools that need it the most and that the funds are better used for other services like tutoring or private lessons. Lee said he hopes to provide 5,000 students in low-performing districts access to state funds, with each student receiving about $7,300. 

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Grundy Co. Pastor Pleas Guilty to Attempted Rape of a Child

The Grundy County pastor accused of child molestation on Friday pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted rape of a child and was sentenced to more than nine years in prison, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. William E. "Tim" Smith Jr., who led the Palmer Church of God, was arrested last May after deputies found him in a church parking lot with a 12-year-old girl in his truck, with both Smith and the girl in some stage of undress when the officers found them. Smith was also found in possession of Schedule II prescription drugs, however, those charges were dropped.

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Join Us in Memphis, Nashville March 27 for Alimony Bench Book CLE

Brought to you by TBA’s Family Law Section, the 17th Edition of the Alimony Bench Book will be available on March 27. What better way to introduce you to this valuable resource than with a live CLE across the state? The course will be brought to you by the authors and experts behind the publication. Earn up to 1 hour of General CLE in Memphis and in Nashville on March 27.
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Juvenile Judges Meet for Winter Conference in Murfreesboro

Juvenile judges from across Tennessee recently held their winter conference in Murfreesboro, focusing on the effects of vicarious trauma on themselves, judicial staff and children. Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Roger A. Page and Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges President Judge Vicki Snyder welcomed the juvenile judges to the conference. Administrative Office of the Courts Director Deborah Taylor Tate reviewed the new Juvenile Justice Reform Implementation Council, created by former Gov. Bill Haslam; the federal Families First Prevention Act; the status of the seven Safe Baby Courts currently operating in the state; and juvenile-specific resources and materials on the opioid crisis.
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General-Solo FastTrack 2019

The TBA General-Solo & Small Firm Practitioners Section has selected the dates for its annual favorite FastTrack series held in all three grand divisions. The FastTrack program allows for a 15-hour CLE opportunity, featuring diverse topics designed to be relevant to a wide range of practice areas. Attendees can receive seven hours of live credit at each forum, then enjoy eight prepaid CLE credits to use for any online programming. Stay tuned for more details!
 
When: Aug. 2, Memphis; Aug. 9-10 and Nov. 8, Nashville;  Aug. 23, Knoxville
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Tennessee House Passes Fetal Heartbeat Bill

The Tennessee House this morning passed controversial legislation that would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected, the Tennessean reports. The bill — HB0077/SB1236 — sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, is among the most restrictive in the nation and has received criticism from even unlikely opposition, such as Tennessee Catholic bishops and the Tennessee Right to Life organization. Several lawmakers suggested amendments to the bill but were unsuccessful. One proffered by Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, would allow abortions in the case of rape or incest, however, Speaker Glen Casada did not acknowledge her. Though the majority of proposed amendments were less contentious to lawmakers, some Republicans feared that adopting them would "weaken" the party's moral high ground.

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Adoption Law Section Legislation on the Move

The TBA Adoption Law Section proposed two pieces of legislation to the 111th General Assembly — SB0207/HB0288 allowing for the modification and enforcement of a contract for post-adoption contact between certain parties, and SB0208/HB0287 which makes several amendments to Tenn. Code Ann. Title 36, Chapter 1, Part 1; Title 36, Chapter 2 and Section 37-1-102. Both of the section’s bills have passed the Senate with no objections. The House will consider the legislation in its next session this Thursday, March 7, 2019. If enacted, it will be requested that the bills go into effect with the governor’s signature, prior to the normal enactment date of July 1. Stay tuned for more info.

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Fewer Tennessee Cases Will Require ICPC Approval

On Dec. 12, 2018, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services issued the following significant statement regarding the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC):
 
“After consideration of Article VIII and Regulation 10, the Tennessee ICPC office will no longer be processing ICPC packets for children in full guardianship when the non-agency placement is in Tennessee when full guardianship is ordered. The Tennessee ICPC office will continue to process ICPC requests for children in partial guardianship or guardianship of an agency.”
 
This is a big change, so let’s unpack it. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, codified in Tennessee at Tenn. Code Ann. 37-4-201, et. seq. states in Article VIII as follows:
 
This compact shall not apply to:
(a)  The sending or bringing of a child into a receiving state by the child's parent, stepparent, grandparent, adult brother or sister, adult uncle or aunt, or the child's guardian and leaving the child with any such relative or non-agency guardian in the receiving state.
 
Tennessee and some other states provide prospective adoptive parents with guardianship as part of the adoption process. Article VIII places non-agency guardians outside the applicability of ICPC without any distinction between the sorts of guardianships existing in the various states. Many state ICPC administrators dismiss the “lighter” versions of guardianship granted to adoptive parents, asserting that only a complete guardianship or guardianship with a right of consent is the sort of guardianship that Article VIII intended to reference. Other ICPC administrators disregard the guardianship exception altogether.  
 
In Tennessee, prospective adoptive parents routinely obtain court-ordered guardianship of a child following either a birth parent’s judicial consent or judicial termination of rights.  Upon termination of all legal parents’ and putative father’s rights, and upon review of the prospective adoptive parents’ home study, a Tennessee court may grant an order of “Complete Guardianship” to prospective adoptive parents. This is also commonly called “full guardianship." This complete guardianship is very broad and includes a “right to consent” to the adoption. Granting guardianship to prospective adoptive parents is not new, but has been part of Tennessee law and practice for 30 years or more.  
 
In non-agency cases, where a child is sent from Tennessee in the complete guardianship of prospective adoptive parents, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will no longer require or process an ICPC package. This is not inconsistent with the ICPC, but entirely compliant with the ICPC, which by its terms do not apply to a non-agency guardian bringing a child into their home state to adopt.  
 
In private newborn adoptions, a guardianship order is normally entered at a birth parent’s judicial “surrender” hearing. If there is no Tennessee surrender hearing, for example, and another state’s extra-judicial adoption consent document is used, in most cases, the prospective adoptive parents will not have an opportunity to secure an order of complete guardianship from a Tennessee court and therefore, will not become guardians under Tennessee law.  
 
ICPC still applies to Tennessee private adoptions when, for any reason, the prospective adoptive parents do not have a court order of complete guardianship. ICPC also still applies to children who are in the guardianship of an agency.  
  
Tennessee permits non-resident prospective adoptive parents to return to Tennessee to finalize their adoption if a Tennessee court gave the prospective adoptive family complete guardianship of the child.  
 
The recently announced change is significant. Some transitional education and confusion are to be expected. But the net effect is a reduction in legal fees and length of travel for many non-resident prospective adoptive families. 

Dawn Coppock is a frequent speaker, writer and consultant on the subject of adoption in Tennessee and nationally. She is certified as a Juvenile-Child Welfare Specialist and a Family Law Mediator and is a Fellow in the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and is the author of Coppock on Tennessee Adoption Law, published by LexisNexis, now in its 6th edition.

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Criminal Law Basics 2019 and Prison Tour

The Tennessee Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section will hold its annual Criminal Law Basics Forum at the Tennessee Bar Center on May 1. This annual favorite features the intangibles for criminal law practitioners, including timely updates on both a state and federal level. We will cover appellate issues, attorney well-being and ethics, ending the day with a guided tour of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, presented by Warden Tony Mays and attorney David Raybin who will discuss representing a death row inmate through execution. Don’t miss out on this unique, enriching CLE opportunity. Here are the key details:
 
When: Wednesday, May 1, registration at 8 a.m., CDT; prison tour at 2 p.m., CDT
Where: Tennessee Bar Center, 221 Fourth Ave N.; Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, 7475 Cockrill Bend Blvd, Nashville
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March TBJ Explains New Child Tax Credit, More

Calculating the new Child Tax Credit into a client's parenting plan is complicated but necessary. Read "Who Gets the Credit" by Cindy MacAulay and Miles Mason in the new Tennessee Bar Journal for help. TBA President Jason Pannu gives support to criminal justice reform, pointing out that the TBA is in a unique position to add to that discussion. "We must work with other legal groups such as the district attorneys general, public defenders, judges, legislators, representatives from the governor's office, academics, and criminal law bar organizations to discuss ideas and find common ground," he writes in his column. He adds that some of the issues the bar can address are sentencing, juveniles, specialty courts, mental health and transition back to society. This Journal also has info on the YLD CASA Volunteer of the Year Gail Henley! Read the March issue.

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Dickson County Cake-Baker Refuses Service to Gay Couple

A business in Dickson County is the latest to join in on what has become an anomalous form of activism — refusing to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, Out & About Nashville reports. Susie Dennison, owner of Susie’s Sweets in Burns, after an initial consultation sent the couple a message saying: “I really enjoyed our time together and I truly wish you the best but after realizing that your union will be of the same sex, I cannot with my spiritual conviction and beliefs, do your cake!” Dennison’s husband, Paul Dennison, later confirmed the incident, further stating that this is not the first same-sex couple the baker has turned away. This is the second recent denial of service in middle Tennessee, with the Rhinestone Wedding Chapel in Nashville shunning a gay couple seeking to get married earlier this month.

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New Program Will Help Domestic Violence Victims

Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Thursday will announce the launch of a new program to help protect victims of domestic violence in Tennessee. The Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program, sponsored in the legislature last year by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Collierville) and Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), will provide a substitute address to victims of specific domestic violence offenses to keep their personal address confidential and off certain government records.
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Tennessee Ranks at the Top of Training to Spot Child Sexual Abuse

Tennessee is at the forefront of an initiative to prevent child sexual abuse, with almost 12,000 adults trained to spot the warning signs of exploitation, The Rutherford Source reports. An annual evaluation by the Darkness to Light organization lists three child welfare groups in the state — Memphis Child Advocacy Center, Children’s Advocacy Centers of Tennessee and Child Advocacy Center of Rutherford County Inc. — that made the group’s top 10 list on completed training. “Little children continue to courageously disclose horrific stories of abuse every day at Child Advocacy Centers across the nation and here in Rutherford and Cannon Counties," Child Advocacy Center Director Sharon De Boer said. " Many of those children first disclosed the abuse to a trusted adult trained in the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children curriculum.”

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Gov. Lee Provides Avenue for Public Feedback on Legislation

Gov. Bill Lee has taken an additional step in his commitment to “an open and transparent government,” creating a webpage for the public to view and provide feedback on legislation that has been submitted to him for consideration. Lee maintains that involving Tennesseans into the process more directly will increase accountability in how laws are made. The site will be updated regularly, as bills pass the Legislature and land on his desk.

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Legislation Affecting Family Law Practice

As the legislative session progresses, many bills of interest to family law practitioners are on the move. Here is a list of notable legislation which has the potential to affect your practice area:
 
A pilot program to provide child care payments to eligible relative caregivers. Requires the department of children's services to establish a three-year pilot program to provide child care payments to eligible relative caregivers. 

Granting of custody to a relative caregiver. Requires a court that issues orders granting custody or guardianship of children to relative caregivers to inform the relative caregiver that resources and funding may be available through the department of children's services. 

Grandparent visitation. Requires court-ordered grandparent visitation rights include at least two visits per month, with a provision that less frequent visitation may be agreed to by the grandparent.

As introduced, increases the punishment for a conviction of aggravated rape of a child from 15 to 60 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Revises stepparent visitation rights. Declares that in the event a stepparent or former petitions for visitation with the stepchild or former stepchild, the court shall set a hearing for visitation if a parent of custodian opposes the visitation, by the circumstance of a divorce or court of another state declares visitation, amongst others. 

Statute of limitations - sexual offenses against children. Deletes the statute of limitations for prosecution of certain Class A or Class B felony sexual offenses committed against a child on or after July 1, 2019. 

Child Support Cooperation Act. Establishes the Child Support Cooperation Act which reduces child poverty and dependency by ensuring that parents cooperate with state efforts to collect child support for their children, as authorized by federal law. 

Requires equal division of guardian ad litem fees in adoptions. Requires that guardian ad litem fees in a pending adoption matter be divided equally between the parties, and requires billing of the indigent party's fees to the administrative office of the court's claims and payment system and bill the remaining parties at the same rate. 

As introduced, requires that a child who is charged with a delinquent act that could qualify the child as a violent juvenile sexual offender must be given verbal and written notice of the violent juvenile sexual offender registration requirements at least 48 hours in advance of a hearing on whether the child committed such act.

Removes statute of limitations on Class A or B felony sexual offenses committed against children. Removes statute of limitations on Class A or B felony sexual offenses committed against children.

As introduced, makes various changes to zero to three courts, including adding five additional courts, extending such courts to January 1, 2025, and allowing such courts to reinstate a revoked or suspended driver license of a party to an action before the court and waive unpaid fines and fees based on the party's satisfactory progress toward meeting the goals of the court.

SB719/HB854 (TBA BILL)
The court allowed to exercise domestic relations jurisdiction. Allows a court to exercise domestic relations jurisdiction regardless of the nature of the allegations until a pleading is filed or relief is sought in a juvenile court invoking its exclusive original jurisdiction.

As introduced, expands the kinship foster care program beyond the placement of children with relatives to include placement with fictive kin; authorizes fictive kin participating in kinship foster care program to receive foster care payments and benefits.

Extends statute of limitations on certain child sexual assault cases. Extends statute of limitations on child sexual assault cases where a crime was not reported to law enforcement within three years of the occurrence.

As introduced, extends civil and criminal statutes of limitation for certain acts of abuse against minors; increases the penalty for intentional failure to report child abuse or child sexual abuse.

Religious or moral exemptions for private child-placing agencies. Prohibits, to the extent allowed by federal law, requiring privately owned child placing agencies participating in the placement of a child in foster care or adoption if that would violate the agency's moral or religious convictions. 

Defines a guardian for purposes of criminal injuries compensation. Defines guardian for purposes of criminal injuries compensation. Broadly captioned.

Altering a child's school enrollment with intent to hinder an active child abuse investigation. Creates the Class A misdemeanor offense of withdrawing, transferring, or altering a child's school enrollment with intent to hinder an active child abuse or child neglect investigation creates the Class E felony offense of moving a child in such circumstances out of state.

As introduced, requires the commissioner of children's services to provide a report to the district attorney general with jurisdiction following a fatality or near fatality of certain children; requires an immediate investigation into a report of child abuse from a party tasked with the education or health and welfare of the child.

Addresses grandparents' rights. Requires a grandparent who has a significant existing relationship with a grandchild to be a party to any termination of the parental rights of that grandparent's child.

As introduced, clarifies the priority an employer, person, corporation, or institution must give to all orders of income assignment against an individual for a child, medical, or spousal support; removes references to the Tennessee Judicial Council, which terminated June 30, 2009.
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Tennessee Commission to End Domestic & Sexual Violence to Offer Free Legal Clinics in Cookeville

The Tennessee Commission to End Domestic & Sexual Violence will hold free legal clinics in Cookeville on Feb. 27 and 28. Volunteer lawyers will meet with attendees to offer legal advice on various issues, including immigration, housing, family problems, education and other civil legal needs. Walk-ins are welcome at these clinics. For more information, including how to volunteer, visit the agency's website or call 615-386-9406.
 
When: Feb. 27, 12 – 4 p.m. and 6 – 8 p.m., EST; Feb. 28, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., EST
Where: Family Justice Center, 269 South Willow Ave., Suite E, Cookeville
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Parents of Disabled Children Engage in Disability Day on the Hill

Advocates and parents of disabled children met with Tennessee lawmakers on Feb. 12 to address concerns and request additional resources, The Tennessean reports. The event, dubbed Disability Day on the Hill, is intended to draw attention to problems facing these families in an effort to create a pathway to Medicaid for all children with long-term, debilitating disabilities. The group communicated concerns regarding access to TennCare for disabled children with intensive medical needs who may not qualify because of salary restrictions on parents, maintaining that even when most costs might be covered, high deductibles copays and other out-of-pocket expenses can be overwhelming. Members of the General Assembly pledged support for this initiative, with Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, saying he plans to submit legislation intended to address these concerns in the coming weeks. 

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TBA to Introduce Legal Document Generation

The TBA will soon launch a new subscription-based product for Tennessee lawyers — automated legal forms. The initiative will use HotDocs, a custom documentation generator that creates form templates and speeds up the preparation process based on client and case data. In order to provide this valuable resource to our members, we hope to obtain your comments and ideas on forms you deem beneficial for replication. With across-the-board participation, we can comprise a substantive, comprehensive database where subscribers will have access to forms submitted by all TBA sections. Please send suggestions and comments to TBA Membership Director Mindy Fulks.

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