“I’m worried about my grandkids. I don’t think they are getting taken care of, and I don’t know what to do.”
“I don’t know where my grandchildren’s parents are, and honestly, I don’t care. I just want to be able to take care of my grandchildren.”
“The Department of Children’s Services just took my grandchildren away from my daughter – says she’s abused them. What can I do to intervene?”
Unfortunately, our children don’t always grow up to be perfect parents. If you are a grandparent concerned about the abuse or neglect of your grandchild, you are not alone.
T.C.A. 37-1-102(b) lists what constitutes “neglect”:
- The child has no parent, guardian, or legal custodian.
- The person with whom the child lives are unfit to care for the child due to cruelty, mental incapacity, immorality, or depravity.
- The child is not getting to school
- The child is not getting necessary medical care
- The child is somewhere that it is illegal for children to be
- The child is unruly.
- The child has been living with someone who is not their parent or guardian without a court order for more than six months.
- The child is being encouraged to prostitute or be engaged in pornography
- Who has been abandoned by a third party for more than 18 months?
If you believe your grandchild’s situation fits one of these criteria, or if you just generally believe your grandchild is being abused or neglected by his or her parents, you have several options to address the issue:
You can call the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and tell them what you know. At that point, DCS will initiate an investigation that will include, at a minimum, talking to the child, both of the children’s parents (if they can be found), any other care-takers (such as you), and potentially the children’s parents, coaches, and other people who know your grandchild. If they determine that abuse or neglect is occurring, they will likely file a lawsuit in Juvenile Court, asking for the child to be removed from the parents’ care until the problem is resolved. The central problem with this option is that you are giving up control over how to resolve a problem for someone you likely care deeply about – your grandchild.
You can petition for “grandparent visitation rights.” To get these, you must file a petition in Juvenile Court, alleging that you have a significant relationship with your grandchildren – essentially, that you spend a great deal of time with them and they are emotionally bonded with you. You then ask the Court to set a specific schedule for you to spend time with your grandchildren.
A problem with this option is that your grandchildren are still essentially in the care of their parents, and if you are worried that the care is sub-standard, then there won’t be a lot you can do. On the other hand, this is a great option if you don’t think you are up to the challenges of raising children again at this stage in your life, and you just want to make sure you can keep an eye on things and intervene more aggressively if you need to.
You can petition for custody. You must file a petition in Juvenile Court, alleging that your grandchild’s parents are abusing or neglecting your grandchild, that your grandchild is in harm’s way immediately, and that you are prepared to raise them for the foreseeable future. The impact on your relationship with your children is immense. You must prove the abuse or neglect by clear and convincing evidence, and you must prove that it is in the best interest of your grandchildren to be raised by you.
This is often the best option. You remain in control over the safety of your grandchildren, and you are the best witness for your children if they take this as an opportunity to get their act together. Sometimes, your children are aware that they need the help and handled with tact, this can be a moment for you to offer that help.
You can attempt to adopt. The only difference between making the decision to adopt versus making the decision to petition for custody is that you are saying, at the outset, that you know the parents cannot be redeemed, and that the child is better off living with you permanently. If this is the option you choose, you will need an experienced adoption attorney to make sure that you have the legal right to adopt, and that you understand all of the legal consequences of adoption.
The good news is this: at Held Law Firm, we have extensive experience guiding grandparents through the process and helping them make the best decision for themselves and for their grandchildren. If handled properly, asserting rights to your grandchildren can not only help them but their parents, too. We’ve handled dozens of grandparent family law cases, and we’ll be happy to help you too.