Divorce is a difficult situation for everyone involved, but it is grandparents who can end up losing the most. No longer seeing a grandchild is heartbreaking for the grandparents and often devastating for the grandchild.
If a parent makes visitation difficult or impossible for grandparents, there are situations in which the grandparent can sue for visitation. However, Tennessee state law on the issue is complicated.
In order to receive visitation rights under Tennessee law, the grandparents must have standing. In Tennessee, grandparents have standing under the following circumstances:
- A child’s mother or father is dead
- The parents are divorced or legally separated or were never married
- One parent has been missing for a minimum of six months
If the grandchild or grandchildren lived in the grandparent’s home for at least six months. The parent removed the child or children from the grandparent’s home, rather than the grandparents asking for the children to leave. This bolsters a grandparent’s contention that a grandchild may suffer irreparable harm if visitation is not permitted.
A child does not necessarily have to live with a grandparent for them to have standing. If there has been a substantial existing relationship for at least one year, and the parent decided not to allow the child access to the grandparent for reasons other than endangerment or abuse, the loss of contact with the grandparent could cause the grandchild significant emotional harm. This is especially true if the grandparent was a primary caregiver.
If a grandparent had little or no contact with a grandchild, and thus has not established a significant relationship, obtaining visitation is much more difficult. On the plus side, if a court in another state has allowed these grandparents visitation, Tennessee courts will recognize the grandparent’s visitation rights.
Petitioning the Court
If any of these standards are met, and the custodial parent objects to visitation, the grandparent may petition the court for visitation rights. The petition is filed in the court in which the grandchild in question resides.
The Child’s Best Interests
Legal decisions regarding visitation should always be made in the child’s best interests. Tennessee statutes look at various standards determining the child’s best interests, including the child’s preferences if he or she is old enough to make such a decision. Other factors include any legal finding of parental unfitness; a grandparent who is the parent of the child’s deceased parent; the good faith of the grandparent, meaning they are not demanding visitation for reasons other than the child’s best interests, and any issues that may affect the parent-child relationship if grandparent visitation is permitted. This is in addition to the potential emotional harm suffered by the child as noted in the standing provisions.
Ultimately, whether or not a grandparent is able to secure visitation rights is dependent on what is best for the grandchild. Just like all other family law conflicts, it is best to evaluate whether or not amending the visitation agreement to include a grandparent will have a positive effect on their well-being.