Does Tennessee Give Grandparents Rights?

Oh, play me some mountain music, like Grandma and Grandpa used to play.
Then I’ll float on down the river to a Cajun hideaway
.

Mountain Music by Alabama ~

Memories like that of your grandparents can be wonderful….. that is, if your grandparents got to see you when you were a kid.  Unfortunately, with all the divorces and children born out of wedlock these days, it’s not a given that grandparents and their grandkids will get to have a stable, uninterrupted relationship.

Tennessee Law Does Give Grandparents Rights
What can grandparents do if they are having trouble getting to see their grandchildren? A lot of folks think that grandparents have no rights at all under Tennessee law, but that is not so.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-306, known as the “Grandparents Visitation Statute,”
provides a number of circumstances that permit courts to mandate grandparent visitation and, sometimes, confer custodial rights.

Those circumstances include:

(1) The father or mother of an unmarried minor child is deceased;

(2) The child’s father or mother are divorced, legally separated, or were never married to each other;

(3) The child’s father or mother has been missing for not less than six (6) months;

(4) The court of another state has ordered grandparent visitation;

(5) The child resided in the home of the grandparent for a period of twelve (12) months or more and was subsequently removed from the home by the parent or parents (this grandparent-grandchild relationship establishes a rebuttable presumption that denial of visitation may result in irreparable harm to the child); or

(6) The child and the grandparent maintained a significant existing relationship for a period of twelve (12) months or more immediately preceding severance of the relationship, this relationship was severed by the parent or parents for reasons other than abuse or presence of a danger of substantial harm to the child, and severance of this relationship is likely to occasion substantial emotional harm to the child.

What happens when a petition is filed for grandparents rights?
When determining a petition by a grandparent for visitation or custody, a court must consider whether there is a danger of substantial harm to the child if an established relationship with the grandparent is disrupted. A finding of substantial harm may be based upon cessation of the relationship between an unmarried minor child and the child’s grandparent if the court determines, upon proper proof, that:

(A) The child had such a significant existing relationship with the grandparent that loss of the relationship is likely to occasion severe emotional harm to the child;

(B) The grandparent functioned as a primary caregiver such that cessation of the relationship could interrupt provision of the daily needs of the child and thus occasion physical or emotional harm; or

(C) The child had a significant existing relationship with the grandparent and loss of the relationship presents the danger of other direct and substantial harm to the child.

When can it be found that a grandparent has a significant existing relationship with a grandchild?   The statute provides the following examples:

(A) The child resided with the grandparent for at least six (6) consecutive months;

(B) The grandparent was a full-time caretaker of the child for a period of not less than six (6) consecutive months; or

(C) The grandparent had frequent visitation with the child who is the subject of the suit for a period of not less than one (1) year.

How is the Relationship Evaluated?
Under the statute, a grandparent is not required to present the testimony or affidavit of an expert witness in order to establish a significant existing relationship with a grandchild or that the loss of the relationship is likely to occasion severe emotional harm to the child. Instead, the court will consider whether the facts of the particular case would lead a reasonable person to believe that there is a significant existing relationship between the grandparent and grandchild or that the loss of the relationship is likely to occasion severe emotional harm to the child.

Further, if the child’s parent is deceased and the grandparent seeking visitation is the parent of that deceased parent, there is a rebuttable presumption of substantial harm to the child based upon the cessation of the relationship between the child and grandparent.

If the court makes an initial finding that there is a danger of substantial harm to the child, it must then determine whether grandparent visitation would be in the best interests of the child.  If appropriate, visitation may then be ordered. However, if a child is subsequently adopted by someone other than a relative or stepparent, any visitation rights previously granted pursuant to this section automatically end.

Who qualifies as a “grandparent?”  There are three possibilities:

(1) A biological grandparent;

(2) The spouse of a biological grandparent; or

(3) A parent of an adoptive parent.

How do grandparents fare in the courts under this law?  In my next post, we’ll take a look at an interesting case involving grandparents rights from Williamson County.

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