New Bill in Tennessee Expands the Definition of Severe Child Abuse

New Bill in Tennessee Expands the Definition of Severe Child AbuseAt the beginning of the summer, the Tennessee legislature introduced a new bill that could potentially impact child custody cases moving forward. The new bill, titled SB-1530, expands on the definition of severe child abuse.

According to the new bill, individuals can be penalized for severe child abuse if the child is knowingly or negligently allowed around a structure where a Schedule I controlled substance is present. In other words, if a child is discovered to be around an area where Substance I controlled substances are present, the child’s parent or guardian can be arrested for severe child abuse. This type of charge is detrimental for any parent to receive.

What is the definition of child abuse?

Child abuse is any activity or behavior done by a parent that threatens a child’s physical or emotional well-being. Child abuse can be categorized into several activities, such as verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Another form of child abuse is neglect, where a parent outright refuses to provide for a child’s basic needs.

A parent may be guilty of neglecting their child if the parent fails to feed, bathe, or provide the appropriate medical care for a child. While the levels of child abuse range from mild to extreme, judges view all child abuse cases seriously. Parents who have committed child abuse against their children put themselves at risk of losing some or all of their parental rights.

What is child custody?

Child custody is a legal term that describes the legal and practical relationship between a parent and a child. Parents who have legal custody over their children have the authority to make long-term decisions about the child’s education, health, religion, care, and any other important areas in a child’s life.

Parents who have physical custody over their children have the authority to determine matters such as where the children will live and how much time the children will spend around each parent. Parents can also be awarded either sole or joint custody of their children.

With sole custody, one parent is chosen to make the primary decisions concerning the children. Joint custody, on the other hand, is a type of shared custody where parents who live in separate households share the decision-making responsibilities for their children. Although the courts are trying to transition from awarding sole custody to one parent in custody battles, there are certain circumstances where awarding sole custody would be appropriate, such as matters of child abuse and neglect.

How is child custody affected by child abuse?

Child abuse charges have catastrophic effects on child custody agreements. Parents who are suspected of engaging in child abuse are at risk of losing some or all of their custody rights. If the non-abusive parent knew about the abuse and failed to prevent it, that parent also loses his or her custody rights and the child will have to be removed from the parents’ home. Children will have the option of either being placed in foster care or living with extended family members.

What is child protective services?

Child Protective Services is a social service department whose responsibility is to assess, investigate, and intervene concerning cases of child abuse and neglect. The primary focus of CPS is the protection of the child and the family. CPS is responsible for determining whether a child has been abused or neglected, protecting the child from immediate danger, assessing the risk of continuous danger to the child, deciding if or what interventions are needed to keep the child safe, and put a plan of action towards those steps, and deciding on the need for the ongoing support of the family for services such as case management or counseling. Once children are under the care of CPS, parents have no control over where the child will be placed.

What factors do judges consider in child custody cases?

The main factor the judge will always consider in a Knoxville child custody case is the best interest of the child. Additional factors that the judge will consider are the love and emotional ties that exist between both parents and the child; the ability of the parents to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and any other necessities; the lifestyles and other social factors of both parents; the length of time that the child has stayed in a stable environment; the mental and physical health of both parents; and evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, another parent, or any other person.

Loss of parental rights

Child abuse does not have to be extreme for a parent to lose custody rights. Under the new law SB-1530, the negligent act of leaving a child around Schedule I controlled substances is enough grounds for a charge of severe child abuse. Although parental rights are traditionally and fundamentally protected, family lawyers always keep the child’s best interests at the forefront of a child custody case.

Once an agency like CPS is involved, the parent has little to no control over where the child is placed. If a judge concludes that child abuse is likely to happen again in the future, a judge may decide to terminate the parent’s rights. When a parent’s rights are terminated, the relationship between parent and child is permanently damaged.

Reduction in parental rights

For child abuse cases that are not as severe, a judge may decide to restrict the parent’s relationship with the child. Examples of restrictions in parental rights include a reduction in a parent’s visitation hours with the child, prohibiting overnight visits, and mandatory supervised visitation. With supervised visitation, a third party is assigned to supervise all of the parent’s visits with the child.

Ready to talk to a lawyer about a family law matter? The attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter understand the challenges and we make sure you get through it without giving up an inch of your rights. To schedule a consultation with one of our Knoxville family law attorneys, call us at (865) 637-6258, or fill out a contact form today.