TN bill would change how custody cases are handled

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Children can often be caught in the middle of custody battles. Tennessee lawmakers are looking to change that.

A new bill sponsored by Senator Mike Bell and Representative Johnny Shaw states that the judge would still have "the widest discretion to order a custody arrangement in the best interest of the child."

"Shared parenting is where we should start. If the judge decides it's in the best of interest of the child to go 100 percent one way or 100 percent in the other, the judge still has discretion to do that with the bill," Sen. Bell said in a recent committee meeting, CBS affiliate WTVF reported.

According to WTVF, the bill does not mean a 50-50 parenting custody agreement.

Walter Richardson of the Tennessee Fathers' Rights Movement said the bill is a step in the right direction for fathers.

"The purpose of it is to level the playing field for fathers seeking to spend more time with their children," Richardson told WTVF. Richardson is the U.S. legislative manager for the national group. He supports fathers struggling during custody battles through a crisis line.

He believes the bill would protect children from the harms of divorce and help parents avoid expensive costs.

"We genuinely want children to not be caught in the middle of these highly contested disputes that can last for years," Richardson said.

The Tennessee Voices for Victims worry about what the legislation would mean to domestic violence victims trying to escape an abusive relationship.

"If they haven't reported what's going on the judge has no idea," Tennessee Voice For Victims Co-Founder Verna Wyatt said. "When you have someone going for a divorce that never called police for any kind of abuse but they're in a power and control relationship, granting joint custody to the two of them when he's an abuser can be very dangerous."

WTVF reported that the bill will move forward to the Children & Families Subcommittee next week.