Although parents usually get to control who has access to their children, under Tennessee law, judges may grant grandparents visitation rights if certain circumstances exist and certain findings are made. At least one of the following circumstances must exist for a judge to consider granting visitation rights:
- The father or mother of grandchild has died
- The child’s parents are divorced, legally separated, or were never married
- One of the child’s parents has been missing for six months
- Another state court has granted the grandparent visitation rights
- The child lived in the grandparent’s home for at least a year and was removed by the parent or parents
- The grandchild and the grandparent have had a close, important relationship for at least a year immediately before grandparent was denied access to the grandchild, and the parents did not deny access because of abuse by the grandparent or because contact with the grandparent put the grandchild in danger
If a judge determines that at least one of the above circumstances exist, the judge will then decide whether denying the grandchild contact with his or her grandparent creates a danger of substantial harm to the grandchild. Specifically, the judge will look to see:
- Whether the grandchild will be losing a significant existing relationship with the grandparent, which will cause the grandchild severe emotional or other direct and substantial harm
- Whether the grandparent was a primary caregiver to the grandchild and whether allowing a parent to stop that arrangement would cause the grandchild harm
If the judge determines there is a danger of harm to the grandchild, then the judge will not award the grandparent visitation rights. At the end of the day, these considerations are very fact specific. The judge will look at all the circumstances leading up to the present situation to determine whether the grandchild will be harmed by not having a relationship with the grandparent.
Because of the wide discretion that judges have over these cases, an experienced family attorney, who has appeared before the judge and knows what he or she is looking for can make all the difference.