A New Law Will Hold Drunk Drivers Responsible for Child Support if Parents Are Killed in a Crash

After Cecilia Williams lost her beloved son, future daughter-in-law, and grandson in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, she set out on a mission to create meaningful legislation.

Car smashed in accident
Photo: Getty

When a drunk driver causes a fatal accident, the effects are undoubtedly numerous, longstanding, and heartwrenching. Now, the state of Tennessee has said that if the driver's victims are parents of a child, they'll have to face a new consequence: paying child support. Here's what you need to know about this new law.

How the New Drunk Driving Law Came to Pass in Tennessee

Almost a year ago, on April 13, 2021, a drunk driver killed Cordell Williams, his bride-to-be, Lacey, and their 4-month-old son, Cordell II, while they were driving through Missouri, reports WTVC NewsChannel 9 in Chattanooga. The couple were also parents to two other children: Lacey and Bentley.

Following the tragedy, Williams' mother, Cecilia, came up with "Bentley's Law," which would require a person convicted of killing a parent, as a result of intoxication while driving, to pay child support for the surviving children.

Williams, who is now raising Bentley and Lacey, explained to CBS News in November that "the main aspect of Bentley's Law is financial responsibility by the offender."

She elaborated to News Channel 9, "They will always remember, this is what I did to the family, you know, and it will sink into them. I can't do this again. You know, I'm supporting children that aren't mine."

Williams' cousin who lives in Cleveland, Tennessee decided to bring the idea to her local representative, and the idea quickly took flight.

How the Law Will Work

Earlier this month, the bill, known as HB1834, passed the Tennessee House with unanimous support. Once it moves through the state's Senate and onto the governor's desk, it's expected to be signed into law.

Sponsored by Representative Mike Hall, HB1834 specifies that a person who has been convicted of vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide due to intoxication and in which the victim of the offense was the parent of a minor child will be ordered to pay restitution in the form of child maintenance to each of the victim's children until each child reaches 18 years of age and has graduated from high school.

The amount of child support the driver will have to pay will be based on whatever the court determines to be "reasonable and necessary for the maintenance of the victim's child after considering all relevant factors, including, but not limited to: The financial needs and resources of the child; the financial resources and needs of the surviving parent or guardian of the child, including the state if the child is in the custody of the department of children's services; and the standard of living to which the child is accustomed."

The bill also notes that if the drunk driver is incarcerated and cannot pay, they'll have one year after being released from prison to begin paying child support. And if they haven't paid what they owe by the time the child is 18, they'll have to continue until they've paid in full.

What This Means for Families Nationwide

Williams is also currently working on getting the bill passed all over the country. So far, it has been introduced in Williams' home state of Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania, according to Live 5 News. The outlet reports that bills are also being drafted in Indiana, Michigan, Utah, and Texas.

Her hope is that by making child support a financial responsibility for the drunk driver, "it's going to take that burden off of the families who are already suffering from the loss and a loss that should have never happened."

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