The Tennessee General Assembly took a major step in child protection this session in passing the Protective Parent Reform Act. The Act provides guidelines for any attorney who is appointed to represent a child in a hearing for custody. It also prohibits the custody courts from granting a change in custody of a child based on a parent filing a good faith allegation of child abuse if the Department of Children's Services fails to fully substantiate or even investigate the allegation, which happens too frequently.
The most far reaching part of the Act is in making certain that the best interest of the child is the center of a custody dispute by stating that child abuse is to be considered on a preponderance of the evidence instead of the more onerous clear and convincing evidence or beyond reasonable doubt.
The Act also prohibits the courts from placing a child in the custody of or in an uncontrolled visitation arrangement with a parent who presents a substantial risk of harm to the child. Previous law allowed a custody court the discretion to place the child in harm's way if the court felt the child needed regular time with both parents more than protection from abuse.
Our legislature has cleared up the confusion over whether the child's right to a safe environment or a parent's right to equal access reigns supreme in cases of so-called minor child abuse or sexual abuse which is very difficult to prove in the absence of semen. This is a major victory for the children of Tennessee.
The Act was sponsored by Representative Kathryn Bowers (D-Memphis) and Senator John Ford (D-Memphis). It passed the House of Representatives on a 94-0 vote and the Senate by a margin of 29-0 and will become law upon signature of Governor Bredesen.