According to the Council on Aging, nearly 70,000 grandparents in Tennessee are responsible for the care of their grandchildren. In a world plagued by the opioid epidemic and incarcerated parents, this number may likely continue to grow. But when a grandparent seeks adoption to formalize their caregiver role, is it a possibility in Tennessee?
Typically, there are two situations where a grandparent may end up raising a grandchild. The first is because the parents are unable to care for the child because of death or disability. The second is because the parents are unwilling to parent the child. Other situations where the parent may be unable or unwilling to parent is due to addiction or dependence.
Though these situations may exist, both parents need to terminate their parental rights in order for the grandparent to assume custody. However, if one parent does give up parental rights and the other does not, the other parent can still maintain custody which was the case in a 2019 court hearing where a grandmother lost custody of a grandchild.
Finally, terminating the parent’s rights must be in the best interest of the child.
The Adoption Process
If all of the aforementioned requirements are met, grandparents may decide to adopt their grandchild. If married, both grandparents must participate in the petition to adopt the child. As direct relatives to the child, the six-month residency requirement is waived to undergo adoption. In many cases, if the grandparents are also foster parents and have had the child in their care for 12 months minimum may receive preference over other couples petitioning to adopt the child.
If approved, the adoption of a grandchild will allow you to have the same rights as the child’s birth parents previously did. The child will likely change their name if it is not already the same as the grandparents and the result will be a legally bound relationship.
Alternatives to Adoption–Guardianship and Trust Agreements
Adopting your grandchild is a permanent decision and one that cannot be changed. While you want to do what is right for your grandchild, knowing what is best for you and your family is also important to consider.
If you believe that you would like to serve as a caretaker for your grandchild but not adopt him or her, a guardianship may be more appropriate for you and your spouse.
In Tennessee, guardianship is a legal arrangement where an authorized adult agrees to care for someone, typically a child, who cannot legally care for themselves. If parents are still alive, they may be able to seek visitation if other court-approved steps had taken place. This also allows for a more suitable individual to adopt the child if you do not feel you can do so yourself.
Another option is trust agreements which can be used to bypass the formal appointment of a guardian and that minor’s possessions. However, this must be documented prior to its immediate need.
No matter what you decide, it’s important to discuss your options with your spouse and then make an appointment with a trusted family law firm to guide you through the process.
Make the right choice for your grandchild and yourself with the help of a trusted family law firm.
Adoption and custody rights as a grandparent is not a guarantee. Having a compassionate and knowledgeable grandparent rights attorney on your side can be vital to maintaining your relationship with your grandchild and the rest of your family. The Nashville family law attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC assist grandparents throughout Middle Tennessee who were denied access to their grandchildren by exploring their legal options. If you need legal assistance with asserting your rights as a grandparent, contact us for more information.