Historically, there was no legally enforceable right permitting the grandparents of a child to visit. In recent years, however, courts have given formal recognition that an important relationship exists between grandparents and grandchildren. By the mid-1990s, every state had enacted a statute allowing for visitation by grandparents. The statutes are by no means uniform, however – in some states, the legislature has declared that grandparents have a right to visitation only if the parents are divorced, deceased, or have their parental relationship terminated by the court. In other states, grandparent visitation is given a wide berth to serve the best interests of the child.
In 2000, the United States Supreme Court heard a case regarding a Washington state statute that allowed any person to petition for visitation rights at any time if visitation were in the best interests of the child. The Court held that the statute was overbroad and infringed upon the rights of the parents to exercise control over the care and custody of a minor child. The Court was careful not to declare all non-parental visitation statutes unconstitutional, but opined that some level of deference must be given to the wishes of the parents because there exists a presumption that the parents will work in the best interests of the child.
In Tennessee, T.C.A. § 36-6-302 allows the grandparents to petition for a right of visitation if the parents of the child no longer have custody and the child has not been adopted by a non-relative, so long as the grandparents are not implicated in the commission of an act against their own child or the child in question that would constitute one of a number of given criminal offenses, generally sexual in nature. If the grandparents have the right to petition under the aforementioned statute, the court will make a determination based on its opinion that “such visitation rights would be in the best interest of the minor child;” and that “the grandparents would adequately protect the child from further abuse or intimidation by the perpetrator or any other family member.”
The standards used by the court are broad and every case is a little different. More information about visitation and other family law issues can be found here.