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Tennessee Supreme Court expands grandparents' visitation rights

Whenever minor children are involved, divorce can be difficult on parents and children. Not seeing or dealing with the other spouse on a daily basis may be something both parents look forward to, but the children may feel anxious and depressed by this prospect. Courts throughout Tennessee try keep the best interests of children in mind whenever they make child-custody decisions and thus generally grant joint custody so that children will have both parents in their lives. Any history of violence, however, can mean sole custody for the parent who can provide the safer environment.

Sometimes, though, the presence of grandparents in children's lives can lessen the psychological toll of divorce. Perhaps recognizing this fact, a September 2013 Tennessee Supreme Court decision broadened the chances that grandparents can keep their visitation rights even if the children's parents oppose those rights. This means grandparents and parents are on more level footing when seeking visitation. Both parents and grandparents, however, must prove they have the children's best interests at heart.

Parents have historically been granted superior rights when child custody is initially determined. However, this right is no longer considered absolute if parents request later changes, such as terminating grandparents' visitation when visitation already in place. In the particular case that led to the ruling, the grandparents had visitation rights with their grandchild, but the parents tried to have them terminated once the relationship between the grandparents and the child's parents fell apart.

The grandparents then sought a child custody modification and additional time with the child. The parents countered by requesting that the court terminate the grandparents' rights. The trial court, however, would make no substantial change to the visitation arrangements, and the Supreme Court let that decision stand, believing it was in the best interests of the child.

Source: TN Courts.Gov, "Supreme Court ruling puts parents, grandparents on equal footing when modifying grandparent visitation," accessed on Jan. 1, 2015

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