Public Chapter 253

SENATE BILL NO. 1204

By Kyle

Substituted for: House Bill No. 1161

By McMillan

AN ACT To amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 37-2-402, relative to the definition of child abandonment.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 37-2-402, is amended by adding the following as a new subdivision to be appropriately designated:

(1)(A) "Abandonment" means, for purposes of terminating the parental or guardian rights of parent(s) or guardian(s) of a child to that child in order to make that child available for adoption, that:

(i) For a period of four (4) consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of a proceeding or pleading to terminate the parental rights of the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the child who is the subject of the petition for termination of parental rights or adoption, that the parent(s) or guardian(s) either have willfully failed to visit or have willfully failed to support or make reasonable payments toward the support of the child;

(ii) The child has been removed from the home of the parent(s) or guardian(s) as the result of a petition filed in the juvenile court in which the child was found to be a dependent and neglected child, as defined in Section 37-1-102, and the child was placed in the custody of the department or a licensed child-placing agency, that the juvenile court found, or the court where the termination of parental rights petition is filed finds, that the department or a licensed child-placing agency made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the child or that the circumstances of the child's situation prevented reasonable efforts from being made prior to the child's removal; and for a period of four (4) months following the removal, the department or agency has made reasonable efforts to assist the parent(s) or guardian(s) to establish a suitable home for the child, but that the parent(s) or guardian(s) have made no reasonable efforts to provide a suitable home and have demonstrated a lack of concern for the child to such a degree that it appears unlikely that they will be able to provide a suitable home for the child at an early date;

(iii) A biological or legal father has either willfully failed to visit or willfully failed to make reasonable payments toward the support of the child's mother during the four (4) months immediately preceding the birth of the child; provided, that in no instance shall a final order terminating the parental rights of a parent as determined pursuant to subdivision (1)(A)(iii) be entered until at least thirty (30) days have elapsed since the date of the child's birth; or

(iv) A parent or guardian is incarcerated at the time of the institution of an action or proceeding to declare a child to be an abandoned child, or the parent or guardian has been incarcerated during all or part of the four (4) months immediately preceding the institution of such action or proceeding, and either has willfully failed to visit or has willfully failed to support or make reasonable payments toward the support of the child for four (4) consecutive months immediately preceding such parent's or guardian's incarceration, or the parent or guardian has engaged in conduct prior to incarceration which exhibits a wanton disregard for the welfare of the child.

(B) For purposes of this subdivision (1), "token support" means that the support, under the circumstances of the individual case, is insignificant given the parent's means;

(C) For purposes of this subdivision (1), "token visitation" means that the visitation, under the circumstances of the individual case, constitutes nothing more than perfunctory visitation or visitation of such an infrequent nature or of such short duration as to merely establish minimal or insubstantial contact with the child;

(D) For purposes of this subdivision (1), "willfully failed to support" or "willfully failed to make reasonable payments toward such child's support" means that, for a period of four (4) consecutive months, no monetary support was paid or that the amount of support paid is token support;

(E) For purposes of this subdivision (1), "willfully failed to visit" means the willful failure, for a period of four (4) consecutive months, to visit or engage in more than token visitation;

(F) Abandonment may not be repented of by resuming visitation or support subsequent to the filing of any petition seeking to terminate parental or guardianship rights or seeking the adoption of a child; and

(G) "Abandonment" does not have any other definition except that which is set forth herein, it being the intent of the General Assembly to establish the only grounds for abandonment by statutory definition. Specifically, it shall not be required that a parent be shown to have evinced a settled purpose to forego all parental rights and responsibilities in order for a determination of abandonment to be made. Decisions of any court to the contrary are hereby legislatively overruled;

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.