Subcommittee Asks For More Information For “Equal Time” Parenting Bill

Lawmakers asked for more information Tuesday, as they debated a measure that would split child custody fifty-fifty for parents in a divorce. The bill’s sponsor says he’s dubious of what the statistics will show.

The “equal-parenting plan” has been delayed two weeks, while a state House subcommittee gets information on whether family courts in Tennessee are properly deciding child custody issues.

State Representative Donna Rowland, a Republican from Murfreesboro, says legislators shouldn’t have to referee custody fights between unhappy fathers and mothers.

“We get to be the committee that takes on that task of playing Solomon sometimes, and that’s not fun.”

Rowland was referring to King Solomon who threatened to split a baby in half in an Old Testament dispute.

Rowland wants the Tennessee Bar Association and the Administrative Office of the Courts to collect information on how the current law is working.

Bill sponsor Mike Bell, a Republican from McMinn County, is pessimistic about getting better data.

“Our law may be, may not be the problem. It’s how it’s being interpreted and applied by judges and attorneys in this state. And there is a problem. I’m skeptical of the statistics already that we’re gonna get back.”

Still, Bell admits the arguments for and against “equal time parenting” have been largely anecdotal and not based on statistics.

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The bill is HB 2916 Bell/SB 2881 Bunch.

Bell says the attorneys for divorcing fathers routinely get the same advice from divorce attorneys.

“They advise their clients to accept the “once every two weeks,” or, every other weekend, two weeks in the summer, because “that’s the best you’re gonna get…”

But Rowland called a short halt for the bill, which even opponents believe will eventually get out of the current subcommittee (House Family Justice) and advance to the parent committee (House Children and Family Affairs).

Rowland said the committee “deserves to know” if any local courts follow rules different from the law as presently written.

“There is no way that this committee can be asked by anybody on either side to make a decision without facts in hand.”

Rowland requested that the Tennessee Bar Association and the Administrative Office of the Courts put together in two weeks information on:
- Whether local courts have rules at variance with state law, which says that gender of the parent will have no effect on the custody decision.
- Which counties have a parenting plan coordinator, and
- Statistics on the parenting plan results, such as,
- Number of contested cases, and
- Number of uncontested cases.

Rowland said,

“I want to know if we’re having … 60 percent ..situation where it is, two-weeks every other weekend, and two weeks in the summer.”

Our previous stories on the issue is here:
Debate Continues On Parental “Equal Time” Bill
Bill Could Give Divorced Parents Equal Time with Children

In this week’s Capitol Hill Conversation, Joe White and Jacqueline Fellows talked about some of the difficulties of getting the sort of statistical information the House subcommittee is now seeking.

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