Many people look forward to the day they become grandparents, cherishing the time they get to spend with their grandchildren. However, being able to spend that time may be difficult if the grandchild’s parents get divorced, move away, or develop strained relationships. If a parent refuses to allow a grandparent to visit, he or she may petition the court for visitation if certain circumstances exist. The Nashville family law lawyers at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC help grandparents understand and assert their legal rights. We understand the emotional and time-sensitive issues that are involved in these types of cases, and we work hard to make sure the best interests of our clients, as well as the grandchildren involved, are served.
Grandparent Rights in Tennessee, Visitation
It is often simply stated that “grandparents do not have any rights.” However, the laws of Tennessee are more complex than that statement suggests. In certain situations, a grandparent is granted the right to visit and maintain a relationship with their grandchild, if a court determines that a relationship would be in the best interest of the child. Many circumstances can arise to justify a court holding a hearing to make such a determination. Generally, the court will grant a hearing if one or more of the following factors exist:
A grandchild has previously lived with a grandparent for a year or longer;
One of the grandchild’s parents has passed away;
One of the grandchild’s parents has been missing for six months or longer;
A grandchild’s parents are divorced, have separated, or have never been married;
An out-of-state court has previously ordered visitation rights; or
One of the grandchild’s parents has cut ties with a grandparent, and this separation is likely to cause substantial emotional harm.
The first issue that a court considers in determining whether to grant a grandparent’s petition is whether or not ending the grandparent-grandchild relationship will likely cause substantial emotional harm to the child. To show actual harm, a grandparent must prove that the grandparent-grandchild relationship is so significant that the child would be harmed if the relationship ended, that the grandparent has acted as a primary caregiver for at least six months and the child would suffer a severe emotional loss, or that the child’s loss of the relationship would put him or her in danger of substantial harm.
A grandparent may also seek custody of a grandchild if the child’s parents are unable or unfit to care for the child. These petitions may be considered when a child’s parents have died or are divorced, or if the child has been abandoned, abused, or neglected. Courts will consider custody arrangements based on what is in the child’s best interest and the grandparent’s ability to care for the child, as well as other factors pertaining to a parent’s unfitness.
Adoption and Visitation in Tennessee
There may be cases where a biological grandchild is placed for adoption; however, this can impact a grandparent’s ability to see their grandchildren. Under Tennessee law, adoption terminates the legal ties between a child’s biological parents or grandparents. The exception to this law is if the child or children are adopted by a stepparent or other blood relative.
Asserting Your Rights With the Assistance of a Family Lawyer
Obtaining visitation or custody rights as a grandparent is not a guarantee, and it may take considerable time and energy to achieve. Having a compassionate and knowledgeable grandparent rights attorney on your side can be vital to maintaining your relationship with your grandchild. The Nashville family law attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, PLLC assist grandparents throughout Middle Tennessee who have been denied access to their grandchildren with exploring their legal options. If you need legal assistance with asserting your rights as a grandparent, contact us for more information.