Do grandparents have legal rights to see grandchildren under Tennessee law?

On behalf of Brandon White

Grandparents can play a vital role in the upbringing of a child. Fortunately, Tennessee law recognizes this and gives grandparents the legal ability to see their grandchildren under certain conditions. Visitation, in which grandparents are allowed to see a grandchild on a set schedule, is possible, as is obtaining custody if there is a significant reason the child cannot remain with a parent.

Visitation rights for grandparents

If the parents of a child do not allow grandparents to see their child, the grandparents can petition the court to receive a visitation schedule, but only if:

  • The father or mother of an unmarried minor child is deceased.
  • The child's parents are not married or they are currently separated.
  • The child's father or mother has been missing for at least six months.
  • The court of another state has ordered grandparent visitation.
  • The child lived with the grandparents for a year or more.
  • The child and the grandparent(s) seeking visitation had a "significant existing relationship" for at least one year before the parent ended the relationship, and ending that relationship caused "substantial harm" to the child.

Showing substantial harm to the child is the only way a child's grandparents can show the court that they should have visitation. The state's constitution otherwise lets parents make a decision as to whether grandparent involvement in the child's life is appropriate.

However, if grandparents already have visitation rights, it is a bit easier. In 2013, the Tennessee Supreme Court lowered the threshold under which grandparents could petition the court to obtain a modification of visitation rights. If the grandparents already have visitation rights and need to modify the schedule or want more time with the child, they must show the court that it is in the best interests of the child to do so - which is less of a standard than showing "substantial harm" to the child if not granted.

Custody rights

Child custody disputes can be among the most contentious, emotional, and stressful areas of family law. It is no different if grandparents feel that their grandchild is at risk living with a parent. Under the Tennessee Constitution, parents have a presumption of "superior parental rights." As such, a parent will have primary physical custody of a child unless a parent consents to giving custody to a grandparent, abandons the child, or forfeits that right by acting in a way that substantially harms the child. The type of harm that could lead to a court granting physical custody to a grandparent over a parent include physical, mental or emotional abuse of the child, if a parent has substance abuse issues, or if illegal activity is taking place in the home.

Understand and protect your rights

Custody issues are a very personal matter, and the outcome of a visitation or custody petition depends on individual circumstances. Grandparents looking out for their grandchildren should understand their legal rights and options. White & White, Attorneys at Law, have years of experience helping Tennessee families with custody issues and understand the role grandparents can play in the wellbeing of a child. Contact our knowledgeable attorneys to discuss your situation and potential options.

Keywords: Grandparent rights, Tennessee family law, visitation, custody, visiting grandchildren,