Grandparents Rights

The right to parent has been recognized as a constitutionally protected right by both the Tennessee Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. A parent’s rights to his or her child are therefore considered superior to all third persons, including grandparents, seeking custody and/or visitation with respect to his or her child.

However, under certain circumstances, a parent’s superior rights can be overcome and a grandparent can obtain custody of a grandchild. Where a child is found to be “dependent and neglected” by a parent or parents, grandparents may be awarded temporary, and, ultimately, permanent custody of a child. A common example is where parents are neglecting a child due to drug or alcohol addiction. A grandparent can also be awarded custody of a child where there is a finding that the parents are unfit, which causes the parents to lose their superior status in evaluating who should have custody of the child.

Tennessee law also provides certain circumstances under which a grandparent can petition the court to be awarded visitation with grandchildren. Common circumstances include where there is a death of a parent or divorce of the parents of the children or where the child has actually resided with the grandparent for an extended period of time. Because the right to parent is constitutionally protected, and any interference with that right – including court-ordered grandparent visitation – is an interference with that right, the burden of proof in a grandparent visitation case is higher than in other civil cases and the petitioning grandparent must show by clear and convincing evidence that he or she meets the standard to be awarded visitation with a grandchild through a court proceeding.