The thought of being unable to visit their grandchildren is enough to break any grandparent’s heart. For many grandparents, though, being separated from their grandchildren is an everyday reality. Sometimes, this is because of scheduling issues or long-distance commutes. In other situations, a child custody arrangement prevents grandparents from visiting their grandchildren.

Some grandparents choose to challenge this by filing for visitation rights in court. The laws regarding grandparents’ visitation rights vary state by state. Tennessee does provide visitation rights for grandparents, but only under certain circumstances.

In Tennessee, most of the situations in which a grandparent may successfully sue for visitation rights relate to the child’s family situation. Grandparents may have grounds for visitation if:

  • The child’s biological or adoptive parents are deceased
  • The parents of the child are divorced, separated or were never legally married
  • One of the child’s parents has been missing for over six months
  • The child lived with the grandparent for a year or more before being removed by the parent
  • The grandparent and the child had a significant existing relationship for at least a year before the parent terminated this relationship

The grandparent must also be able to show that the child is likely to be emotionally harmed because of the severed relationship. This is called the harm standard—it is the standard that the court uses to determine whether a child would be substantially emotionally harmed by the termination of the grandparental relationship. There are three requirements to meet this standard:

  • The child’s existing relationship with the grandparent was so significant that its termination would cause the child severe emotional harm
  • The grandparent previously acted as the child’s primary caregiver to the extent that the child’s daily needs could not be met without the relationship
  • The child could suffer direct and substantial harm without the significant existing relationship with the grandparent

After considering the grandparents’ standing for visitation and the harm standard, the court will then weigh whether grandparental visitation is in the best interests of the child. In our next installment of this two-part series, we will examine how the Tennessee family court system evaluates the child’s best interests in cases of grandparents’ visitation rights.