Tennessee Grandparents’ Rights

Of course, most grandparents want to have a close relationship with their grandchildren. As a stabilizing force in children's lives, grandparents may be especially important if the children's parents have problems.

The Right To A Hearing For Visitation

Tennessee law lays out criteria that govern grandparents' rights to have access to and spend meaningful time with their grandchildren. If a custodial parent, or parents, do not allow grandparents visitation with grandchildren, the grandparents can petition the court for visitation. They must be allowed to participate in a hearing if certain conditions are met, and a court might grant a hearing even if none of these conditions holds.

Grandparents have the right to a hearing to determine visitation if they had a significant relationship with the child, as long as the parents did not end the relationship because the grandparents were abusive or the child was in danger. If the child actually lived with the grandparents for a year, the court will assume that keeping the child and grandparents apart could harm the child irreparably.

If the parents are not together due to divorce or separation, or were never married, the grandparents must be given a hearing on their petition for visitation. They must also receive a hearing if one of the child's parents has died or has been missing for at least six months. If a parent has died, the court will assume that it will be harmful to the child to lose a relationship with the grandparents who were the mother and father of that deceased parent.

Decisions On Visitation

When a judge considers a grandparent petition for visitation, the primary concern is whether a child could be substantially harmed if there is no contact with the grandparent. Some grandparents have functioned as a primary caregiver, and losing the grandparent could be devastating for the child, even threatening the child's day-to-day needs.

If a grandparent and grandchild have spent time together frequently for at least one year, or lived with or cared for the child for at least six months, the judge will presume there is a significant existing relationship. Even with a shorter time period, a grandparent may be able to convince a judge that the relationship is important to the child's wellbeing.

Other Concerns About Grandchildren

Sometimes grandchildren need more than visitation with grandparents; grandparents might need to step in and become guardians if a child's parents are absent, deceased or unable to care for the child. Some kind of legal arrangement needs to be established so that grandparents can make decisions about the child's education and medical care.

In Tennessee family and probate courts can appoint grandparents as guardians, and the court can limit the scope of a guardianship if necessary. Sometimes elderly grandparents cannot fully manage all responsibilities for a grandchild, and a limited guardianship still lets them participate in making some decisions.

Establishing visitation rights or guardianship is a complicated task best achieved with the assistance of an attorney well acquainted with family law. When grandparents are concerned about contributing positively to their grandchildren, but the children's parents are uncooperative, it may be time to petition for visitation. If the children need a reliable adult caretaker and no parent can fill that role, guardianship may best fall to grandparents. An attorney will be able to advise grandparents about their rights and opportunities.