News

Juvenile Court Judge Speaks Out Against Bill Allowing Exemptions for Adoption Agencies

Nashville Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway recently spoke out against proposed adoption legislation in an opinion piece in the Tennessean. The bill would allow adoption agencies to deny placement to LGBT families based on religious grounds. She references one bill in particular — HB0836/SB1304, sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, and Sen. Paul Rose, R-Shelby, Tipton counties — that has passed the House by a 67-22 vote. Calloway expresses concerns that this legislation could serve as a jumping point for discrimination and could have a ripple effect, affecting children who may not share common religious beliefs with agencies or those who themselves identify as LGBT. She further cites a case in Philadelphia where a federal judge upheld the city's non-discrimination policies for adoption agencies that sought denials for LGBT families and legal challenges for several states that have attempted to instill similar legislation. The Senate bill will be considered by its Judiciary Committee today.

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5 New Job Postings on TBA’s Joblink

See who is hiring in Tennessee. Recent job postings this month offer opportunities in litigation, real estate, health law and more. See full listings or post positions in your firm on TBA’s Joblink.
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New Study Features Data on Foster Child Placement

The Annie E. Casey Foundation — a private philanthropy that assists children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes — recently published an assessment on trends in U.S. foster care placement. The study highlights disparities among placements for African American and older children, placement data among different institutions and offers insight on how states can improve services. The examination also shows Tennessee as one in only three states or territories that saw a decline in placement, with numbers down two percent between 2007 and 2017, as compared to an average five percent increase nationally. You can view the complete article here.

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House Passes Bill That Allow Adoption Agencies to Refuse LGBT Couples

A bill that would allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples based on religious objections has passed in the House of Representatives, the Tennessean reports. The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, was scheduled to be heard in judiciary committee today. The House bill, sponsored by  Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro passed on a vote of 67-22, with three members not casting votes. The bill declares that no licensed adoption agency would be required to participate in a child placement if doing so would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies." It also prohibits the Department of Children's Services from denying an agency's application because of the group's refusal to place a child with a family based on religious objections.
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Tennessee House Advances Religious Exemption Bill Regarding Adoptions

The Tennessee House on Monday advanced legislation that that would allow adoption agency denial of service to same-sex couples based on religious objections by a 67–22 vote, with three abstentions. HB0836/SB1304 amends TCA Title 36, Chapter 1, Part 1 to prohibit the requirement that those agencies “perform, assist, consent to, refer, or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions.” The companion Senate bill was reset for hearing yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee to its final calendar date.

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Register Now: 31st Annual TBA Health Law Forum

Register now for the 31st Annual TBA Health Law Forum and the 19th Annual Health Law Primer to take place this October in Franklin The must-see, must-do event for Tennessee health law attorneys, this forum features timely topics designed to up your game and keep you on top of trends in the area. Presentations in this year’s program will include: cyber threats in health care, surrogate decision making, updates with TennCare, cloud-based vendor agreements, reps and warranties, legislative updates, antitrust concerns and much more. Don’t sleep on this opportunity to learn from seasoned practitioners while networking with top players in the field. Here are the key details:
 
Health Law Primer (introductory program)
When: Wednesday, Oct. 16
Where: Embassy Suites Hotel, 820 Crescent Centre Drive, Franklin
 
Health Law Forum
When:  Thursday, Oct. 17 – Friday, Oct. 18
Where: Embassy Suites Hotel, 820 Crescent Centre Drive, Franklin
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Registration Now Open for TBA Convention in Nashville, June 12-15

The TBA's annual Convention returns to downtown Nashville this summer! Mark your calendars for June 12-15 and prepare for four days of CLE, networking, entertainment and more at the Renaissance Hotel, 611 Commerce Street. Registration is officially open, with early bird rates available until April 30.
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2 TBA Adoption Bills Signed into Law

Gov. Bill Lee on Friday signed into law two bills that were a part of the TBA's legislative agenda and were authored by the TBA Adoption Law Section. SB0207/HB0288 allows biological parents and adoptive parents to enter into an enforceable, written contract for post-adoption contact that permits continued contact between legal relatives and the child, while SB0208/HB0287 is a corrections/clean up bill for the TN: First in Adoption Act, enacted in 2018.
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Correction: 2nd Annual Adoption Law Forum a Huge Success

An Adoption Law Section Connect item on March 21 failed to include executive council members Dawn Coppock (East Tennessee Delegate) and Jennifer L. E. Williams (Middle Tennessee Delegate).

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2nd Annual Adoption Law Forum a Huge Success

The TBA Adoption Law Section presented its second annual forum to a packed house at the Tennessee Bar Center on March 6. Through the dedication of the section and top-notch programming, this event has become a staple for not only adoption law practitioners, but lawyers of associated practices as well. Thanks to the TBA Adoption Law Executive Council members for their time and assistance with another remarkable forum. Stay tuned for more exciting events to come from this section.
 
OFFICERS
Jason Long, Section Chair, London & Amburn, P.C.
Mike Jennings, Vice-Chair, Samples Jennings Clem and Fields
 
MIDDLE TENNESSEE DELEGATES
Bob Tuke, Trauger & Tuke
Julia Tate, TN Baby Law
Lisa Collins, Attorney at Law
Sharon Massey, Attorney at Law
Wende Rutherford, Rutherford & Demarco
 
WEST TENNESSEE DELEGATES
Kevin Weaver, Weaver & Craig PC
Meredith Brasfield, Weaver & Craig, P.C.
 
EAST TENNESSEE DELEGATES
Andy Roskind, Pratt Aycock, PLLC
Elizabeth Carrol, Harmony Family Center
Julia Spannaus, Attorney at Law
Stewart Crane, Crane, Lee & Moya, PLLC
Susan Kovac, Tennessee Department of Children's Services
Theodore Kern, Eshbaugh, Strange-Boston, Metcalf & Kern
Will Veterick, Samples, Jennings, Clem & Fields, PLLC
 
 
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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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Tomorrow: 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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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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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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Legislation Regarding Adoption and Juvenile Law

As the legislative session progresses, many bills of interest to advocates of children are on the move. Here is a list of notable legislation that 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. 

SB54/HB122 (Expected to change.)
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 courts 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 (Tennessee Bar Association 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 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.
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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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Advocates Push Back on Religious Exemption Adoption Bill

Legislation proposed by State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, that allows Tennessee providers to deny adoptions to same-sex couples on religious grounds has been met with consternation from not only LGBT proponents, but social workers as well, The Daily News Journal reports. Opponents of Rudd’s bill point to the fact that the state has around 8,000 children in foster care, of which only about half will be placed in foster families and contend that the measure creates more unnecessary barriers in guaranteeing these children find homes. Rudd maintains that his bill is not discriminatory, rather prevents faith-based organizations from ceasing services because of lawsuits, and that LGBT families can still pursue adoptions through non-faith-based organizations. "Nowhere in this bill does it say anything about outlawing anyone from adopting," said Rudd when asked about his measure. "It's simply protecting the constitutional rights of religious freedom from being persecuted."

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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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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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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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Tennessee General Assembly to Consider Religious Exemptions for Adoption Agencies

The Tennessee General Assembly is set to consider several bills that would allow agencies to deny adoptions to gay couples based on religious objections, The Tennessean reports. Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, have sponsored one such bill, HB1152/SB0848, which as introduced specifies that a child-placing agency shall not be required to provide adoption services that conflict with the agency's sincerely held religious beliefs. It joins similar bills sponsored Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, and Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. The measures are comparable to legislation passed in Kansas and Oklahoma just last year. When asked about his bill, Hensley said: "There's a lot of other adoption agencies that are not religious-based … There's certainly other options for people who want to adopt."

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Legislators File Bills Targeting LGBT Adoptions

Multiple bills filed this week in the Tennessee General Assembly would allow adoption agencies to deny services to same-sex couples based on religious objections, The Tennessean reports. One bill, filed by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, specifies that an adoption agency would not be required to provide services to a couple if it would conflict with the agency's "sincerely held religious beliefs," and prevents the state or a local government from taking adverse action against the group. Legislation filed by Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, puts in place similar protections for discrimination based on religious beliefs and would prevent a couple from suing the adoption agency for refusing to provide services.
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