Serving Clients in Knox, Blount, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier & Roane Counties

Grandparent Visitation in Tennessee

If you are a Tennessee grandparent, court-ordered visitation is often the only way to ensure continued contact with their grandchildren. Some parents resent the intrusion, are defensive about their parenting style, or have other reasons for your restricting access to your grandkids.

The right to visit your grandchild is not a given. According to a case called Troxel v. Granville, a grandparent’s time cannot interfere with parental time. In other words, parents have a Constitutional right to 100% of the time with their children. That generally means that, as a starting point, grandparents have zero right to time with their grandchildren.

The Troxel v. Granville holding has been eroded in recent years. This comes as courts are called upon to decide what happens to children faced with the challenges of unwed parents, the effects of the opioid crisis, and general economic conditions that have destabilized the traditional family unit of mother, father and children.

Now, at least in Tennessee…

If a parent objects to working with a grandparent so they can see their children, a grandparent can petition the Court for specified rights. To get those rights, the grandparent must initially show the following things:

  • The child’s parent is deceased;
  • OR the child’s parents are divorced, separated, or were never married;
  • OR the child’s parent has been missing for at least six months
  • OR a court in another state has ordered grandparent visitation
  • OR the child has lived in the grandparent’s home for at least 12 months before being removed by the parents
  • OR the child and the grandparent have maintained a significant bond for at least 12 months
  • AND that the child will likely suffer severe emotional harm if the relationship with the grandparent is not allowed to continue through visitation.

To show emotional harm, the petitioning grandparent can show that s/he was the primary caregiver for at least six months. Or, they can show that the child is otherwise at risk of substantial harm or severe emotional harm.

Even if the petitioning grandparent proves all of these factors, the Court is restricted in what visitation can be ordered.

Typically, the Court is only allowed to order the minimum necessary to prevent harm. So, for example, visitation might be limited to every other Sunday afternoon. A lawyer representing a grandparent should work to maximize the time awarded to the grandparent. That’s usually done by showing that a routine was observed before. For a lawyer representing a parent, the goal is to show that the child is doing fine with whatever time the parent is willing to give.

Grandparent visitation is a hot topic in the Tennessee courts these days.  The law is changing rapidly. That means that courts may give inconsistent results, often based on the skill of the attorney presenting the case more than any consistent application of the law. If you are facing a grandparent visitation case, you will need a lawyer who will develop the case thoroughly. Held Law Firm is here to help. Call (865) 685-4780 today to schedule a consult.

The information in this blog was compiled and written by Margaret Held.