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Grandparents’ visitation rights in Tennessee

Disputes concerning child custody between divorcing spouses are common features ofdivorces in Tennessee. A less-noticed type of custody dispute is the desire of biological grandparents to obtain and enforce a legal right to visit a child after the divorce becomes final.

When the Tennessee legislature adopted the Uniform Child Custody Act in 1979, it enacted a provision that deals specifically with this issue in cases where the child is removed from the custody of both parents or a guardian and placed in a licensed foster care home or other home or facility licenses or operated by the courts. The provision allowing grandparent visitation rights does not apply to cases where the child has been adopted by persons other than stepparents or other relatives.

The grandparents must petition the court for an order granting them “reasonable visitation rights” during the child’s minority. As with most visitation and custody issues, the grandparents must demonstrate that such visitation would serve the best interests of the child. The statute enumerates eleven factors that must be considered by the court in determining whether grandparents’ visitation would be in the best interests of the child. These factors include the existing emotional ties of the child to the grandparent, the prior relationship between the child and the grandparent and whether granting grandparent visitation would interfere with the parent-child relationship. In cases involving abuse or intimidation, the grandparents must also prove that they would be able to adequately protect the child from further abuse or intimidation.

Because a court order is required to establish grandparent visitation rights, anyone interested in obtaining an award of grandparent visitation will be well served by consulting an experienced divorce attorney. Such a consultation can provide an overview of all of the factors that the court must consider and an estimate of the likelihood of persuading the court to make such an award.