It is depressing when a couple who once promised before God and the world to love each other forever end up battling in court, especially when the fight is over their children.
Effective July 1 of this year, new laws went into effect which amend the “Bill of Rights” for parents. The new rules are intended to make parents “play fair and nice.”
Everyone in the court system has seen parents use the children to punish each other. When I began my practice, I saw fathers fail to pay child support because “she won’t spend it on the child” or “she’ll just waste the money. I’d rather buy what Susie needs and give it to her myself.” We don’t hear that much anymore, because child support laws are stronger.
But in many cases, parents act ugly. They may refuse or pointlessly limit the non-custodial parent’s telephone calls with the child; intercept and “lose” mail, delay and censor it; try to turn the child against the other parent by criticizing him or involving the child in court proceedings where he will hear harsh things said about his father or mother.
Sometimes parents refuse to keep the other parent informed about the children’s whereabouts and activities, fail to let them know about extracurricular activities so they don’t have to interact with the other parent and deny them the right to know about and see important events in the child’s life. Some obstruct access to the children or information about them because it angers the other parent and gives them more control.
The new law increases the power of courts to sanction such bad behavior. A contempt of court may mean a $50 fine and/or ten days in jail. And it may entitle the mistreated parent to damages and attorney fees.
Each parent now has the right to unimpeded telephone conservations at least twice a week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations. The number where the child may be reached must be provided. The mean practice of using unlisted numbers to impede access to the child will no longer be tolerated.
Parents may send mail to the child which shall not be destroyed, defaced, delayed, opened or censored. Presents must be delivered to children when received.
As soon as practicable, or in any event within 24 hours, notice must be given of hospitalization, serious illness, injury or death of the child. Health care providers must be given information about how to contact the non-custodial parent.
Non-custodial parents have the same rights to information from the school which possessory parents have.
Each parent has the right to information about the medical condition and treatment of the children and copies of records, directly from the health care providers.
Every parent has the right to be free of derogatory comments about him or her or their family in presence of child.
A parent must be advised by the other parent 48 hours in advance of any extracurricular activities and be advised of the person who schedules the event so they may make plans to attend.
A parent has the right to receive an itinerary whenever the child leaves the state for 48 hours or more, together with dates of departure and return, destination and telephone numbers where child may be reached.
The non-possessory parent’s rights to access information about and participate in the child’s education are equal to those of the custodial parent.
The custodial parent has all these rights when the child is visiting the other parent or their family.
Of course, in proper cases, a court may deny or restrict a parent’s rights for just cause.
In writing this column, I am greatly indebted to Siew-Ling Shea Esq. with the Nashville law firm of Rogers, Kamm & Shea. Her article entitled “New Statutory Parental Rights” in the November TBA Journal provided much of the material summarized.
Judge James G. Martin III, whose district covers Lewis, Perry Hickman and Williamson Counties, was largely responsible for these improvements in the law of parental rights. He saw the need and brought it to the attention of the Tennessee Bar Association. Its Family Law Section recommended changes to improve the statute.
This column discusses legal issues of general interest and does not give legal advice on any reader’s personal situation. The law is not a one-size-fits-all hat. Consult a lawyer of your choice.