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Legislators are working on

a custody proposal that would
include parental input
Staff Writer
The 150 demonstrators who marched
from the Nashville Arena to Legislative
Plaza yesterday gathered volume as they
went, leaving no doubt of their opinion
about Tennessee's child custody system.
"The best parents are both parents!" they
cried in unison.
"Free the fathers!
Free the children!"
"We are not pay-
checks! We arE! people!"
Likewise, a move-
ment is gathering steam
in the legislature that 11OOth General
would completely re- Assembly
vamp child custody
The proposal, now be- • Concealed-
ing studied by a special w e a p 0 n
legislative committee, per mit
would replace current h ear i n g s ,
custody rules with a sys- on 3B.
tern requiring divorcing • Hearings set
parents to come up with on layoff
a negotiated "parenting plan.
plan" shortly after filing on 48.
for divorce.
"It is not the answer to all the problems
in the world, but I think it will help get
people away from the winner/loser mental-
ity and into a parenting mentality," said
Circuit Court Judge Don Ash, who hears
divorce cases in Rutherford and cannon
counties. He wrote the proposal for the
But not everyone agrees.
"The plan works well on paper, but I
don't think it will work in real life," David-
James Reid Bivens, 2, of Pegram sleeps oblivious to the demon-
stration by 150 people for Dads Against Discrimination, protesting
what they consider gender bias in child custody laws. The group
does not support the legislature's new parenting-plan proposal.
son County Circuit Court Judge Muriel Rob- legISlature's initial re-examination of custo-
inson said. dy laws last year.
Ironically, the fathers' rights group that
marched yesterday does not endorse the
  even though its rumblings led to the
"We're not naive enough to think the
existing proposal will make work
perfectly, but right now we don't think the
system works at all," said Lee Collins of
Johnson City, a director of Dads Against
"Today's march isn't so much about legis-
t Turn to PAGE 2A, Column 3
lawmakers want
The amount of hazardous
For information on the HIV
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slightly radioactive
'C'llild custody laws may be  in for revisions
lation as it is about gen-
der discrimination."
The  current  system 
In Tennessee, no two judges han-
dle custody cases exactly the same.
But in general, the system works
like this:
If two parents decide to get di-
vorced and each wants the kids to
live with them, each files suit ask-
ing for custody.
At the beginning of the divorce
process, the court may make a deci-
sion as to who gets temporary custo-
dy. But it is possible for the parents
to have not communicated at all
before the divorce goes to court.
Then, at the trial, each attorney
makes a case for why the children
would be better off living with their
client. The judge uses his or her
best judgment, based on a list of
criteria, to determine who gets cus-
tody. The judge then comes up with
a visitation schedule; under a fre-
quent arrangement the non-custodi-
al parent gets to see the children
every other weekend.
The  proposal 
The system the legislative com-
mittee studying the problem has on
the table is based on a system in
place for several years in Washing-
dministration panel approving the
inical trials were quoted as saying
mune Response exaggerated the
gs' potential.
Local HIV educators say it's im-
ortant for study participants to get
e full picture.
"There are still lots of questions,"
aid Joseph Interrante, executive di-
ector of Nashville CARES.
"We don't know the interactions
ith other treatments. What are the
de effects? Those are all questions
pefully this study will address."
The inveStigational treatment is
en by injection every three
ronths. Participants on drugs such
AZT or protease inhibitors must
ve been on a stable dose for at
:t a month to quality.
Study participants must be at
t 18 years old and have a T-cell
unt from 300-549. There's a $50
ancial stipend per inoculation.
To get a true picture of the drug's
'ectiveness, half of the study par-
tipants will get a placebo,
"If the drug is found to be benefi-
al, at that point all patients in the
dy will be given active Remune,"
aas said.•
Key  points  in  custody  reform  plan 
• Require parents to come up
with a detailed "parenting plan"
shortly after filing for divorce. It
would layout specifically what role
each parent hopes to play in the
life of the child.
• Require that both parents at-
tend a seminar on the effects of
divorce on children.
• Make it illegal for a custodial
parent to move more than 150
miles from the non-custodial par-
ent without a court hearing.
ton state.
Parents who file for divorce
would first have to attend a seminar
on the effects of divorce on chil-
Then, they would be required to
sit down together - with their at-
torneys, if necessary - and come
up with a specific plan spelling out
each parent's role.
If the parents can't agree on a
plan, they would each have to come
up with one·
"The big difference here is that a
lot of the discussions would take
place before it gets to me," Ash
said. "If they can get it resolved by
mediation, then ies more likely that
the parents can work together,
• Make it possible for a grand-
parent who has had a significant
role in raising the child to win visi-
tation rights, even against the
wishes of the custodial parent.
• Eliminate the assumption that
children under 7 should be award-
ed to the mother unless she Is de-
clared "unfit." That would be part
of a list of several determining
factors judges use to determine
"The court battles are terribly
damaging to children."
More  for  the  courts? 
However, there are several con-
cerns about the new plan. One is
thelost of the educational seminar
ana the mediation process. Since
many divorcing couples can't afford
to pay a lawyer, legislators fear the
state would have to pay the addi-
tional costs of the mediation. And
Gov. Don Sundquist's proposed bud-
get is tight.
The other concern is that the pro-
posed system might bog down the
court system.
"The problem is in the practical
area of enforcement," Robinson
said. "Right now, you have a certain
segment of divorcing couples that
work together, and that's not caus-
ing any problems.
"But making the arrangement be-
tween the two parents more specifi-
cally laid out can cause even more
trouble. The cases that make it to
court are people who don't get
along. If you give them more hoops
to jump through, it just exacerbates
the situation."
According to Judge Heather Van
Nuys of Yakima County Superior ,
Court in Washington, no one there
has collected statistical data on
whether the parenting-plan system '
has reduced court time. But based I
on her own experience, she says it I
hasn't cluttered up the system.
What's  next 
The committee, which is chaired
by Rep. Robert Patton, R-Johnson
City, is expected to submit the bill,
or a version of it, in about a month.
It is still waiting for the Tennessee
Bar Association's opinion.
One member of the committee
thinks some version of it will be
"My gut feeling is that something
will be done," said Rep. Kim Mc-
Millan, D-Clarksville. "Maybe not
this year, maybe not next year, but
we are moving in a direction to
completely reform the system."
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