In 1998 the Tennessee legislature authorized pilot programs as a new way to approach custody disputes in six judicial districts from Memphis to Bristol. Rather than focusing on litigation, the pilot programs were to try developing agreements for cooperative co-parenting.
The success of the pilot programs, particularly in Bristol and Chattanooga (where no "old style" litigation was allowed), was striking. Parents concentrated on writing good contracts for the sharing of their children post-divorce. Returns to court after divorce were drastically reduced.
Based upon that success, the legislature mandated a sweeping change for all courts as of January 1, 2001. "Custody" was removed from the vocabulary. "Visitation" became a term for what people do at jails and hospitals.
The legislature required that all divorcing parents attend training classes, called Parent Education Seminars. The text of the new law for the training classes is found at Tenn. Code Ann. §36-6-408.
Here in Knox County, Circuit Court Four has had such training classes since 1984. In fact, the new state-wide requirement of the classes is a result of other jurisdictions' interest in the success of this court with such classes.
Circuit Court Four accepts training by a number of providers.
For a list of providers and their telephone numbers, please call the Clerk, at 865.215.2404.
The fee is waivable or reduced in cases of indigency. Children do not attend the sessions. Each parent attends on different nights.
If, at the conclusion of the training classes, parents are unable to agree upon a Parenting Plan, then some form of alternative dispute resolution is required. The legislature allows various forms, including mediation, arbitration, or a mandatory settlement conference. The statute defining dispute resolution is Tenn. Code Ann. §36-6-402.
Mediation is, at present, the most fully developed of the forms of alternative dispute resolution. Circuit Court Four uses the Community Mediation Center as its service provider for mediations.