Families are complicated, and can become even more so when parents and grandparents disagree on the grandparents’ visitation rights. Tennessee courts do recognize a grandparent’s rights to see their grandchildren, but as in other states, the rights of the parents are most often seen as having greater importance, given parents’ right to raise their children as they see fit. If you are struggling right now with not being able to see your grandchildren, keep reading to learn the basics of grandparent visitation rights and contact a Memphis child visitation lawyer. We’ll analyze your specific situation and help you however we can.
Basics of Grandparent Visitation Rights
To start, we need to talk about who are seen as grandparents in Tennessee. Typically, it would be one of three: the biological grandparent, the spouse of the biological grandparent, or if the child is adopted, the parent of the adoptive parent.
If you belong to one of these groups, and the child’s parent doesn’t want you to spend time with your grandchild, you can request visitation rights from a Tennessee court. That said, ideally, you should try to mend fences if there exists some family dispute. Tennesse Code Annotated 36-6-306 is very specific about the circumstances in which it will allow the court to compel visitation.
The six possible sets of circumstances are as follows:
- Another state court ordered grandparent visitation rights
- The parents have gotten divorced, legally separated, or weren’t ever married
- The child’s parent hasn’t been seen for at minimum six months
- The grandchild is an unmarried minor whose parents passed away
- The grandparent and child had a “significant relationship,” where there was no abuse or possibility of “significant harm to the child,” for at least a year before the parents took the grandchild away
- The child used to live with the grandparent for at least a year before the parents took away the child from the grandparents
This last example sets in place a rebuttable presumption that the court’s denial of visitation rights could end in substantial harm to the child.
Continuing on, if the grandparent(s) can prove one of these situations exists, then the court would weigh whether the child would experience substantial harm in the absence of visitation with their grandparent(s). As defined in the Tennesse Court of Appeal case Ray v. Ray (83 S.W.3d 726), substantial harm means a “real hazard” which is more than a “theoretical possibility.”
Once that is established, the court will consider if the child and grandparent have a significant relationship: if the grandparent has been a full-time caretaker for the child or frequently visited the child over six months.
If after this determination, the court also finds that grandparent visitation rights are in the best interest of the child, then the court may award such rights to the grandparent(s).