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Grandparent Visitation Rights

Grandparents are, in most cases, a vital part of a child’s development but in Tennessee do grandparents have any rights?

First if a grandparent is seeking and court ordered visitation they must show that one of six situations exist that are set out in Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-306(a). The six situations of Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-306(a) are below.

  1. The father or mother of an unmarried minor child is deceased;
  2. The child’s father or mother are divorced, legally separated, or were never married to each other;
  3. The child’s father or mother has been missing for not less than six (6) months;
  4. The court of another state has ordered grandparent visitation;
  5. The child resided in the home of the grandparent for a period of twelve (12) months or more and was subsequently removed from the home by the parent or parents (this grandparent-grandchild relationship establishes a rebuttable presumption that denial of visitation may result in irreparable harm to the child);
  6. Or

  7. The child and the grandparent maintained a significant existing relationship for a period of twelve (12) months or more immediately preceding severance of the relationship, this relationship was severed by the parent or parents for reasons other than abuse or presence of a danger of substantial harm to the child, and severance of this relationship is likely to occasion substantial emotional harm to the child.

Second, the Court must determine, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-306(b)(1), whether there is a danger of substantial harm to the child if the child does not have any visitation with the grandparent. Therefore, the danger must be of what the law refers to as “substantial harm” The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Ray vs. Ray, 83 S.W.3d 726 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001) said that substantial harm “ connotes a real hazard or danger that is not minor, trivial, or insignificant”. The Court went on to say that the harm “must be more than a theoretical possibility”

Third, the court must also determine if the relationship of the child and grandparent(s) is “significant” based on the factors set out in Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-306(b)(1).

  • A significant relationship is, according to T.C.A. 36-6-306(b)(1), when the child resided with the grandparent, or the grandparent was a full-time caretaker, for at least six (6) consecutive months. Therefore, if the grandparent was watching the child(ren) when mom or dad were at work may not be enough as the court may not consider that as “full-time” and again the time must be six “consecutive” months.
  • A significant relationship may also be when the grandparent had frequent visitation with the child for a period of not less than one (1) year. Therefore, the Court must determine based on the facts if the visitation was “frequent” and that frequency must be for over one year.

Fourth, the court must determine whether the visitation would be in the minor child’s best interests based on the seven factors set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-307.

The laws in Tennessee allow for grandparent visitation but to gain court ordered visitation is very very hard as it is the parents constitutional right to raise his or her child as they see fit so long as those decisions do not harm the child(ren) or endanger their welfare. A grandparent may in those circumstances bring a dependent neglect action against the parents. In a neglect and dependent action the grandparent must prove other items/factors then what are set out above. If you have questions about situation and would like a consultation please call us at 615-417-7800 and set up a time to speak with one of our attorneys.

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