John W. Crow
In the summer of 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly passed several new changes to family laws in this state. One of the most comprehensive revisions of the law was to a statute that is known as “the rights of parents” [T.C.A. 36-6-101(a)(3)(A)]. The legislature strengthened, clarified, and expanded this law in an attempt to curtail many of the abuses that arise when one parent has a large amount of control over the children. Here are some of the changes to the “rights of parents”:
- In the past, each parent has had the right to unimpeded telephone conversations with the child at least two times per week at reasonable times and for reasonable durations. The General Assembly now requires that each parent must furnish a telephone number to the other parent where the child may be reached.
- Each parent has the right to send mail to the child and the other parent shall not destroy, deface, open, or censor the mail. The General Assembly has added to this section requiring that each parent shall deliver all letters, packages, and other materials to the child and that the parent shall not interfere with their delivery in any way, unless otherwise ordered by the Court. Essentially, what this means is that each parent now has a duty to make sure that the child receives mail sent from the other parent and that parent cannot interfere in its delivery.
- The General Assembly did not alter the section stating that each parent has the right to be free of unwarranted derogatory remarks made by one parent about the other parent or the other parent’s family in the presence of the child.
- Parents have the right to know as soon as practicable and within 24 hours of any hospitalization, major illness, or death of the child. The law now requires that a parent shall notify the other parent of any such event and they shall provide all healthcare providers with the contact information for the other parent.
- Parents have the right to receive copies of the child’s medical, health, or other treatment records directly from the healthcare provider. The new law requires that each parent shall provide the other parent with the contact information of the healthcare provider, if so requested by the other parent.
- The old law allows for any parent to receive educational records directly from the child’s school. The new law adds that the parent enrolling the child in school shall provide to the other parent the contact information for the school, or in the case of homeschooled children, the contact information of any sponsoring entity. Each parent shall have access to the child’s report cards, attendance records, names of teachers, class schedules, and standardized test scores.
- The General Assembly did not greatly modify the section that provides that each parent has the right to access and participate in the child’s education. Parents have the right to see the child during his/her lunch period and other school activities so long as the participation is legal and does not interfere with the child’s educational schedule.
- Under the prior law, each parent has the right to be given 48 hours’ notice, when possible, of extracurricular activities when it would be appropriate for parents to attend, participate, or observe. The new law states that each parent shall advise the other parent of the extracurricular activity and provide the contact information for the person responsible for its scheduling so that the other parent may make arrangements to participate or observe.
- The legislature has updated the law regarding taking the child out of state temporarily. It now requires that parents provide an itinerary that includes 1) dates of departure and return, 2) intended destinations, 3) mode of travel, and 4) telephone numbers in which to contact the child and/or other parent. The parent traveling with the child shall provide this information within such a timeframe as to give the other parent reasonable notice. To put it plainly, before a parent takes a child from Tennessee for more than 48 hours, they must give the other parent reasonable notice and an itinerary.
If a parent violates these statutory provisions then that parent can potentially be punished by contempt. Such punishment could mean jail time, fines, payment of attorney fees, or an entry of an order prohibiting certain conduct. But remember: before you take action against the other parent, try to be as reasonable as possible by giving them a chance to correct their faults. Make sure they understand your position, what the law requires them to do, why they are violating your rights as a parent, and what they can do to remedy the situation before you seek legal action. If the other parent does not respond to your requests, you may have little option but to seek relief from Court.
By John W. Crow