“Equal Time” Parenting Legislation Get Softened, Moves Forward

An “equal time” parenting bill sought by non-custodial parents – mostly dads – stayed alive this week in the Tennessee legislature. The proposal moved out of a key subcommittee, but with an amendment that softens it.

Murfreesboro Republican Donna Rowland got a House subcommittee to change the proposal to basically restate the aims of Tennessee’s decade-old “parenting plan”.

“The intent of this legislation …is, and always has been, that everybody has equal footing walking in. That we take the emotion out of it. And it has also been that we give guidance to the court, not dictate to the court.”

Rowland says her amendment makes the measure read in a more straightforward way, to say that both parents should have an equal chance to be the custodial parent.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Mike Bell, says he doesn’t like the amendment and will try to alter it.

Bell told members of the committee that while lawmakers have been discussing his bill the last two months, several courts with jurisdiction over divorce cases have voluntarily changed their “local” guidelines, which would have tended to favor the mother in custody battles.

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The full House Family and Children’s Affairs Committee will take up the bill next week.

Rowland is one of three Republicans on the Family Justice Subcommittee and one of two women. She emerged as the compromise broker two weeks ago when she called a halt to further progress on the bill until the panel had more information on the actual disposition of cases in courts.

She told stakeholders attending Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting that tensions ran high.

“Please do not think that this committee hasn’t been torn apart. There are members who have been forced to relive things they don’t want to relive. Last night all I dremt apart was arguing the shared-parenting bill. I’ve never dremt about a bill before in my life.”

The bill was harder on her than her first political baptism by fire, she says.

“I survived the income tax battle. That was nothing compared to the emotion that members have put into this.”

Rowland had earlier asked the state Bar Association and the Administrative Office of the Courts to delve into family courts for more detailed information. Bar representative Steve Cobb told the subcommittee Tuesday that in addition to Chancery and Circuit courts with such jurisdiction, some 37 General Sessions courts can deal with divorce cases. Those courts don’t report to the Administrative Office of the Courts, he says. So information even on totals numbers of cases are difficult to come by.

The bill is HB 2916 Bell/SB 2881 Bunch.

WPLN has followed this bill in some detail. Our previous stories:

Subcommittee Asks For More Information For “Equal Time” Parenting Bill
Tuesday, March 09th, 2010, by Joe White
Capitol Hill Conversation – Changing Child Custody in Tennessee
Monday, March 08th, 2010, by Jacqueline Fellows
Debate Continues On Parental “Equal Time” Bill
Tuesday, March 02nd, 2010, by Joe White
Bill Could Give Divorced Parents Equal Time with Children
Monday, March 01st, 2010, by Joe White

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