Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Legislation Passed Affecting Courts & Judges

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    Legislation clarifies judges can determine appropriateness of domestic case decisions — Legislation was approved this year clarifying that Tennessee judges can continue to determine the appropriateness of decisions in domestic cases without a formal on-the-record hearing. The new law addresses conflicting opinions in the Court of Appeals, one of which said Tennessee judges are not allowed to settle domestic cases unless there is a formal hearing with recorded sworn testimony. The opinion would mean that hundreds of divorce cases based on irreconcilable differences, which are currently settled by the parties through agreements, must go to court for a full hearing regardless. Not only would such action be costly to litigants, it would have a significant impact on court dockets across the state. Domestic cases involving property distribution and parenting plans are often settled by agreement of the parties. This legislation sends it back to where it has been for over 100 years by continuing to allow judges to determine the appropriateness of an agreement through inquiries deemed necessary to ensure it is fair and equitable. 

   New law gives judges discretion in determining child custody plans in domestic violence cases — The General Assembly approved legislation that gives judges discretion in determining child custody plans when a parent has committed domestic abuse against the child, other parent, or other individual residing with the child. The new law requires a court to make its decision based on the best interest of the minor child when limiting a parent’s residential parenting time because the parent has engaged in willful abandonment or abuse of the parent, child or another person living with the child. Current law has conflicting statues governing these instances. One statute allows a judge to use discretion in determining a child custody plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence, but another statute provides that a judge must limit a parent’s residential plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence. This legislation clarifies the law and mirrors other state statutes governing parental rights that prioritize the best interest of the child.  

   Legislation creates new judicial district for Tennessee – Tennessee will have a new judicial district under a new law that I sponsored and passed before the General Assembly adjourned. The legislation adds District 32 to the state’s judicial districts, serving the citizens of Hickman, Lewis, and Perry Counties. Currently, the counties are comprised in the 21st district, along with Williamson County. The measure allows Williamson County to become its own standalone judicial district effective September 1, 2022. Action on the measure follows recommendations made by the Advisory Task Force on Composition of Judicial Districts, which was created by lawmakers in 2018 to increase resources to the state’s judicial system. The 32nd Judicial District will allow for more specialized legal attention to better address the unique needs of citizens in these counties by reducing the backlog of court cases currently on the books because of exponential growth. 

   Legislation modernizes Tennessee Courts E-filing System – A new law which aims to modernize the state’s court filing system was approved in 2020. The measure allows any court in Tennessee to use an electronic filing (E-filing) system to provide greater efficiencies for litigations filed throughout the state. In 2016, the General Assembly passed a law allowing civil trial courts to use an E-filing system. Following the success of this practice in the civil trial courts, this legislation was proposed to expand the ability to all Tennessee courts.

   New law allows law enforcement agencies to choose electronic citations for certain misdemeanor criminal offenses — Legislation was passed by the 111th General Assembly allowing law enforcement agencies to issue electronic citations for certain misdemeanor criminal offenses in lieu of written citations or arrest. The new law ensures that a paper copy of the citation be given to the cited person and that the court of jurisdiction receives it within three days of the issuance. The current statute is outdated in reference to only written orders or citations. Electronic citations are a very efficient process used by many agencies statewide.  

   Legislation allows courts to hold session outside of county seat due to extraordinary circumstances  — In the event of a natural disaster or other extenuating circumstances, courts will be able to hold proceedings outside of their designated building until it is rebuilt under a new law passed this year. It allows a county that has suffered a natural disaster to hold trials outside the county seat in another suitable building and gives discretion to the local judges to decide the new location if that is required for the safety and the due process of a defendant. The legislation follows a devastating fire which destroyed Loudon County’s courthouse and applies to all Tennessee counties that might suffer such losses in the future.

You May Contact Senator Hensley at

425 5th Avenue North, Suite 746

Nashville TN 37243

615-741-3100

Toll Free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100

Fax 615-253-0231

855 Summertown Highway

Hohenwald TN 38462

Phone 931-796-2018

Cell Phone 931-212-8823

E-mail: sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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