Tennessee Grandparent Child Custody Laws

By Natalie Petitto

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In the state of Tennessee, grandparents can file for custody of a grandchild if the parents&#039; rights are relinquished or forcibly terminated. Also, grandparents who are denied visitation with their grandchildren have the right to petition a Tennessee family court for visitation if the parents are divorced, separated or have never been married. Finally, grandparents may adopt grandchildren whose parents have had their rights terminated.

Child Custody Circumstances

In the state of Tennessee, a grandparent may petition a court for custody of a grandchild if both parents are deemed unfit. However, the courts strongly discourage children from being removed from the custody of their natural parents unless there is a preponderance of evidence showing that neither parent should have physical custody of the child. Abuse and neglect are the foremost reasons a child would be removed from the custody of the parents, and allegations alone are not always sufficient to prove parental unfitness. The burden of proof is on the grandparent, and if it&#039;s sufficiently proven that both parents are a detriment to the child and there is little hope of rehabilitation, a grandparent may then be awarded custody. However, grandparents cannot petition a court for custody if the grandchild is adopted by another party.

Visitation Rights

Title 36 of the Tennessee Code states that grandparents have visitation rights under the following circumstances: if the parents are legally divorced, separated or were never married, if the father or mother is deceased or has been missing for a period of at least six months, or if a court in another state has ordered the visitation. In addition, a court may order visitation if the child has lived with the grandparents for at least 12 months, or if the grandparents had a relationship with the child for six months and the relationship was ended by the parents for baseless reasons. Circumstances in which a grandparent is not granted visitation include any instances of emotional or physical abuse. Also, a grandparent may not be granted visitation if the child has been adopted by another party.

Read More: Supervised Visitation Rights in Tennessee


Grandparents in Tennessee lose all rights to their grandchild in the event of an adoption by another party. The grandparents cannot be handed visitation rights and they cannot file for custody after the adoption is finalized. However, grandparents may adopt their grandchild if the parents&#039; rights were terminated. If the grandparents are married, both parties must participate in the petition to be eligible to adopt. Because grandparents are the natural relatives of the children, the six-month residency requirement to adopt is waived. Grandparents who are foster parents and who have had the child or children in their care for at least 12 months are given preference over other petitioners for an adoption.