The right of a parent to raise a child is a fundamental liberty interest protected by both the State and Federal Constitutions and has been re-affirmed in numerous Tennessee court opinions. As such, any intrusions or interference on that right are subject to heightened judicial scrutiny.
Grandparents in Tennessee can petition the courts for ordered visitation, but only under limited circumstances. The grandparent visitation statute can be found at T.C.A. § 36-6-306. Petitions under the statute are most commonly seen when there has been a disruption of the marriage or relationship between the child’s mother and father or grandparents have had their visitation curtailed by the child’s parent or parents.
Once grandparents establish one of six (6) scenarios exist that preceded the disruption of visitation, they must prove the existence of a significant relationship between themselves and the child and the interference with that relationship risks harm to the child or neglect of the child’s basic needs. If the court determines there is a risk of harm, there must be an additional finding that grandparent visitation would be in the best interests of the child. A list of factors the court may consider are found at T.C.A. § 36-6-307. The child’s preference may be considered if the child is sufficiently mature.
Even when a court finds visitation is appropriate, grandparents do not have the same legal rights as a parent. The court is given wide discretion in crafting the visitation schedule but it must also minimize interference with the parent-child relationship. Lovelace v. Copley, 418 S.W.3d 1, 31 (Tenn. 2013). The statute is intended solely to award visitation rights. It does not give grandparents rights a divorcing parent would receive. Thus, the statute does not create a right to things like receipt of medical information, education information or notice of the child’s activities. In re Diawn B., 2018WL3530838 (Tenn. Ct. App., July 23, 2018).