Grandparent Visitation Rights In Tennessee
The birth of a new child into a family is a blessing. It is often said that the reward for being a parent is having the privilege of eventually becoming a grandparent. While the perks and sweetness of becoming a grandparent are certainly real, the relationship can become complicated when, for whatever reason, the grandparents’ ability to see their grandchildren is restricted.
Grandparent/Grandchild relationships can be enriching and rewarding. However, it is important to remember that grandparents’ rights to see their grandchildren are not the same as a parents’ rights to their children. When grandparents find themselves unsure of whether their relationship with the grandchildren can continue, they might seek out advice to determine what rights they actually have that they could legally pursue.
Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Tennessee?
Generally speaking, yes. Under Tennessee law grandparents have legal rights to visit/see their grandchildren. However, those rights are limited and much deference will be given to the child’s parents. If a child’s parents are fit parents and married to one another, the court will probably not interfere with the parents’ decisions regarding whether their child’s grandparents may visit with the children. In this regard the court operates under the presumption that such parents are making decisions in their child’s best interest. The best interest of the child, not the best interest of the grandparent, will always be the main concern of the court.
The above concept was demonstrated in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Troxel v. Granville. That case established that a parent holds a “fundamental liberty interest and constitutional right” to raise their children without government interference (such as the court stepping in and ordering that grandparents be granted visitation rights.)
Tennessee law must be consistent with Federal law. The Supreme Court decision established a nationally applicable standard that Tennessee law and process adheres to. A grandparent may feel that they have their grandchild’s best interest at heart, and that they are an important figure who deserves to be in their grandchild’s life. While this may all be true, neither the federal or Tennessee state law recognizes “grandparents” as “parents” under the law. As a non-parent, a grandparent does not have equal rights/veto rights over a child’s fit parent. Generally, the only exception to this rule is when keeping the child from the grandparent creates a danger of substantial harm to the child.
So, who might successfully pursue grandparent visitation rights, and under what circumstances?
Pursuing Visitation Rights
Every grandparent has the right to petition for visitation with their grandchildren. However, the right to petition does not equate to guaranteed success. The court may grant a grandparent’s request for visitation against the parents’ wishes, but the judicial power to do so is limited.
Tennessee law allows for a grandparent to pursue a visitation hearing in certain circumstances:
- One of the child’s parents passes away
- One of the parents has been missing for 6+ months
- Parents are not married
- A grandparent visitation order has been granted to the grandparent in another state
- The child lived with the grandparent for at least 12 months before being removed by the parents. The court may assume irreparable harm to the child if the relationship was severed.
- For 12+ months immediately prior to the visitation being severed, the grandparent and grandchild maintained a “significant existing relationship.”
None of the circumstances listed above will be enough to overcome circumstances where a relationship was severed due to substantial harm or abuse to the child.
Contact Fort, Holloway & Rogers
Contact one of Fort, Holloway & Rogers experienced Franklin child custody lawyers to discuss your goals concerning child custody or visitation.
Tennessee Code § 36-6-302 (2021) – Grandparents’ Visitation Rights Upon Child’s Removal or Placement in Home or Facility :: 2021 Tennessee Code :: US Codes and Statutes :: US Law :: Justia
Troxel v. Granville :: 530 U.S. 57 (2000) :: Justia US Supreme Court Center