Grandparent Rights and Grandparent Visitation
Grandparents get a pretty raw deal in Tennessee, and people will often tell you that Grandparents have no rights here. While your rights are limited, they do exist, so if a parent is depriving you of a relationship with your grandchild(ren), it may be wise for you to consult Downton Clark, PLLC.
The Grandparent Visitation Law
Grandparents’ rights and visitation laws have changed repeatedly over the last twenty (20) years, as the legislature passes new laws and the courts strike them down. The current framework has withstood challenges and appears likely to remain in place for some time to come. This framework sets up certain conditions under which Grandparents might be awarded court ordered visitation, largely focusing on the pre-existing relationship between the grandparent and child and the impact cessation of the relationship will have on the child.
When grandparents seek custody or visitation rights, a court usually grants a hearing to determine the best course of action for the child. However, the Court will look for at least one of the following conditions before ordering visitation:
- A deceased father or mother (your child) of the grandchild
- Divorced, separated or never married parents
- A parent (your child) who has been missing for at least six months
- Your grandchild lived with you for at least one year
- One or both parents severs relations with you
- Most crucially, ending the grandparent’s relationship with the child will cause substantial emotional harm to the child
In certain emergency situations, grandparents can seek custody of their grandchild.
Grandparents can petition the court for a change of custody from the parent(s) to the grandparent(s) under standard change of custody laws. The burden of proof is heavy on the grandparent and courts do not typically favor grandparents it views as meddling, so good cause is necessary. Essentially, the grandparent must prove parental unfitness to achieve the goal of custody because the grandparent must show that “a substantial likelihood of harm” exists under continued parental control.
Grandparents can also proceed with a dependency and neglect petition against the parents (or against only one parent in appropriate situations). These proceedings require proof of a particular condition set forth in the dependency and neglect statute, such as financial and/or residential instability, conditions of illegality in the home, ongoing drug or alcohol abuse, physical abuse, etc. Under this procedure, it is possible for grandparents to gain almost immediate custody if an emergency exists that would justify the court granting an immediate Protective Order.
The first thing a court considers in a grandparent’s petition for visitation is whether ending the grandparent-grandchild relationship is likely to cause substantial emotional harm to the child. Next, the court determines whether the grandparent was the child’s primary caregiver. The court then considers whether termination of the significant existing relationship causes severe emotional harm or direct and substantial harm. Expert witnesses are not required; however, it is advisable to have competent legal counsel at your side to make sure you get what you deserve.
The Downton Clark, PLLC Difference
First, we will impartially assess your likelihood of success in litigating a case to assert your rights as a grandparent. We won’t encourage you to spend money on us and to disrupt your family relationships unless we think you can succeed and the scales tip in favor of legal action. Second, we know what we’re doing in these cases. Our lawyers have been involved in hundreds of cases involving grandparent rights. We know the dynamics, we know strategy and we know the solutions.