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In adoption and other areas of law, definitions mean a lot

Ask a tax lawyer the difference between avoidance and evasion and you likely will get a definitive answer. The first is legal. The second is not. The obvious difference is in the definitions. Avoidance involves using IRS-approved tools to shelter income from taxes. Evasion involves intentionally failing to pay owed taxes.

Every area of the law depends on our sharing a common understanding of what the words in our statutes mean. The laws dealing with family relationships, including adoption, are no exception. So it might surprise some that a defining effort in Nashville over a few words is sparking headlines across the state. Some say the trigger of the debate traces back to disagreement over the acceptability and legality of same-sex relationships.

As many readers likely know, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex marriage is legal across the nation. Whether you agree with the decision or not, one thing no one disputes is that it has created the need in some states, including Tennessee, to reexamine the language of their laws to clarify meanings. Bills to do that are now before both the state House and Senate.

Sponsors say the legislation seeks to provide legal clarity around what the words mother, father, husband and wife mean, based on "biological distinctions between women and men." 

Critics say the measure is an effort to get around the 2015 Supreme Court decision and that passage will have far-reaching negative implications for marriage and parental rights where same-sex couples are concerned. They say a wiser move would be for lawmakers to go through outdated statutes and change references of husband and wife to spouse and mother and father to parent.

Regardless of what happens with the measure, those with experience in Tennessee adoptions know how complex the process can be. To be sure the rights of all those involved are protected, working with skilled counsel is recommended.

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Lisa Collins Werner Family Law & Mediation Compassion. Experience. Results

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