The Rights of Grandparents in Tennessee


Parents have a right constitutional right to parent their children as they see fit.  The courts will generally not interfere with that right.  The right to parent a child includes the right to decide with whom the child can and cannot associate.  So, what happens when the parents decide the child can no longer spend time with the grandparents?

In situations where the parents of a child are refusing to allow the child to spend time with the grandparents, or are severely restricting the relationship, the grandparents may be able turn to the courts for assistance.   If the grandparents can prove to the court that the Child’s best interest would be served by allowing grandparent visitation, and the child will suffer actual harm if grandparent visitation is not allowed, then the court can grant grandparent visitation.  However, court ordered grandparent visitation must be limited so as not to interfere with the parent-child relationship. 


Grandparent Visitation Laws Have Recently Changed


There was a change in the law in 2016 making it easier for grandparents to seek the court’s assistance.  Before the change, if a child’s parents were allowing the grandparents to visit with the child, no matter how limited that visitation, the grandparents could not turn to the courts for assistance.  The law required a complete denial of visitation by the parents before the grandparents could invoke their rights.  The change allows grandparents to seek the court’s help in situations where the parents have “severely reduced” the time grandparents spend with the child.  This change in the law is significant and opens the door to many grandparents who were only allowed to visit with the child a few times a year.


How Does the Court Determine Whether to Grant Grandparent Visitation?


Where the grandparents are being denied visitation with the child, or where the visitation has been severely reduced, the court cannot conduct a hearing to determine whether to order grandparent visitation unless one of the following factors is present:


  • The father or mother of the child has died

  • The child's parents are divorced, legally separated, or were never married to each other

  • The child's father or mother has been missing for not less than 6 months

  • The court of another state has ordered grandparent visitation

  • The child lived with the grandparent for at least 12 months and was then taken from the home of the grandparent  

  • The child and the grandparent maintained a significant existing relationship for a period of at least 12 months just before the relationship ended or significantly reduced, the relationship was ended or significantly reduced for reasons other than abuse or presence of a danger of substantial harm to the child, and the ending or significant reduction of the relationship will likely cause substantial emotional harm to the child


Is There a Risk of Harm to the Child if the Grandparent is not Allowed to See the Child?


The grandparent seeking visitation with the child carries the burden of proving to the court that one of the factors listed above is present.  The court must also determine whether there is a danger of substantial harm to the child if the relationship between the grandparent and the child is severely reduced.  The grandparent also carries the burden of proving such actual harm, and must offer proof to the court that demonstrates at least one of the following factors:


  • The child had such a significant existing relationship with the grandparent that loss or severe reduction of the relationship is likely to cause severe emotional harm to the child

  • The grandparent functioned as a primary caregiver such that the loss or severe reduction of the relationship could interrupt provision of the daily needs of the child and thus cause physical or emotional harm

  • The child had a significant existing relationship with the grandparent and the loss or severe reduction of that relationship presents the danger of other direct and substantial harm to the child


The court will consider that a grandparent had a significant existing relationship with the child if the child lived with the grandparent for at least 6 solid months, the grandparent was a full-time caretaker of the child at least 6 solid months, or the grandparent had frequent visits with the child for at least 1 year.


What if One of the Parents is Dead?


If one of the child’s parents is dead, and the grandparent trying to have visitation with the child is the parent of the child’s deceased parent, then it is easier to prove the child would be harmed by stopping or severely limiting visitation with that grandparent.  In fact, such a situation places the burden on the child’s living parent to prove the child would not be harmed by stopping or severely limiting the visitation.


What Factors Does the Court Use to Determine What is in the Child’s Best Interest?


If the court finds the child would be in danger of substantial harm should grandparent visitation not be granted, it must still be determined whether grandparent visitation would be in the best interests of the child.  In making such a determination, the court will consider the following factors:


  • The length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and the grandparent and the role performed by the grandparent

  • The existing emotional ties of the child to the grandparent

  • The preference of the child if the child is determined to be of sufficient maturity to express a preference

  • The effect of hostility between the grandparent and the parent of the child manifested before the child, and the willingness of the grandparent, except in case of abuse, to encourage a close relationship between the child and the parent or parents

  • The good faith of the grandparent in filing the petition

  • If the parents are divorced or separated, the time-sharing arrangement that exists between the parents with respect to the child

  • If one parent is deceased or missing, the fact that the grandparents requesting visitation are the parents of the deceased or missing person

  • Any unreasonable deprivation of the grandparent's opportunity to visit with the child by the child's parents or guardian, including denying visitation of the minor child to the grandparent for a period exceeding 90 days

  • Whether the grandparent is seeking to maintain a significant existing relationship with the child

  • Whether awarding grandparent visitation would interfere with the parent-child relationship

  • A finding by any court that the child's parent is unfit


Great-grandparents, Adoptions and Step-Grandparents


There are several other things to keep in mind regarding grandparent visitation.  First, the adoption of the child can have an impact on grandparent visitation.  If the adoption was by a relative, such as an aunt or uncle, the grandparents can still be granted visitation.  Also, if the adoption was by a stepparent of the child, the grandparents can still obtain court ordered visitation.  If, however, the adoption was by a non-relative, any visitation rights given to the grandparents will automatically end.


The concept of grandparent has been expanded in recent years to include not only the biological grandparent, but also the spouse of a biological grandparent, the parent of an adoptive parent, or the biological or adoptive great-grandparent or the spouse of the biological or adoptive great-grandparent.


Contact a Memphis Grandparents’ Rights Attorney


If you have questions about grandparent visitation rights, contact our office for a free initial consultation at (901) 410-5490 or email us at  We serve clients in Memphis, Cordova, Bartlett, Arlington, Collierville, Germantown and Tipton and Fayette counties in Tennessee.

Grandparents often play a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren.  But, what happens if the parents of a child unreasonably limit the time a grandparent can spend with the child?  This often happens when the parents go through a divorce, or when tension exists between the parents and grandparents.  Occasionally, the grandparents did not approve of the union of the child’s parents and the resulting ill feelings cause the relationship to suffer.  So, what rights do grandparents have in Tennessee?

Serving clients in Memphis, Germantown, Millington, Cordova, Bartlett, Collierville, Shelby County, Fayette County & Tipton County.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

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