I heard a funny joke one time, attributed to the writer Teresa Bloomingdale: “If your baby is ‘beautiful and perfect, never cries or fusses, sleeps on schedule and burps on demand, an angel all the time,’ you’re the grandma.” And as a parent, I know it’s true: my kids were always “better” for Grandma and Grandpa than they were for me. I also know that fostering that relationship between a grandparent and a child is one of the best things you can do for your kids.
When a couple divorces, however, this relationship can be strained (if not outright broken) for a number of reasons – some valid, and some malicious. The state of Tennessee has laws in place to protect the rights of grandparents to visit with their grandkids, but what a lot of folks don’t realize is that these rights aren’t the same as being granted parenting time. Parenting time can only be awarded to the parents of the child; court-ordered grandparent visitation rights give you access to your grandkids, but no say in how they are raised (at least, not in the legal sense).
What you should know before seeking a court order
Most important is this: you are not guaranteed the right to see your grandkids. In Tennessee, the children’s parents are the ones who determine whether or not you have access to their children. However, a court can order the parents to give you access to your grandchildren if A) the judge establishes that there is no danger of substantial harm to the children, and B) the judge believes that it is in the best interest of your grandkids.
So what does “best interest” mean in this case? Under the law, a judge may find that:
- “The child had such a significant existing relationship with the grandparent that loss of the relationship is likely to occasion severe emotional harm to the child;
- The grandparent functioned as a primary caregiver such that cessation of the relationship could interrupt provision of the daily needs of the child and thus occasion physical or emotional harm; or
- The child had a significant existing relationship with the grandparent and loss of the relationship presents the danger of other direct and substantial harm to the child.
- For purposes of this section, a grandparent shall be deemed to have a significant existing relationship with a grandchild if:
- The child resided with the grandparent for at least six (6) consecutive months;
- The grandparent was a full-time caretaker of the child for a period of not less than six (6) consecutive months; or
- The grandparent had frequent visitation with the child who is the subject of the suit for a period of not less than one (1) year.”
If you live in another state and have been granted visitation through the courts in that state, it does not guarantee you visitation in Tennessee. You’ll have to petition for access here, too – although being granted access elsewhere may help your case. If you do file for a modification of the order, you’ll be held to the same legal standard as the parents.
If you are a grandparent who is being denied access to your grandchildren, take heart: there are options available to you under the law. I just want you to be prepared before you start the legal process, because while the Tennessee courts do recognize grandparents’ rights when it comes to access, those rights are not guaranteed. As a Maryville family law attorney, I can help you in your pursuit, and explain how the process works. To learn more about your rights and about how I can help, please contact my law firm, Shepherd and Associates, P.C. by filling out this contact form or by calling 865.225.9655.