TN Supreme Court sides with grandparents on visitation

THE TENNESSEAN) Grandparents in Tennessee will be able to see their grandchildren more easily because of a ruling Friday by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The unanimous ruling clarified the standard that grandparents must meet when they want to modify details of court-approved visits with grandchildren. The ruling especially affects cases in which grandparents seek to maintain relationships after parents divorce or adopt.

Grandparents will have to show that altering a visitation plan would be in the child's "best interest" — a lower standard than they had to meet in the past. Previously, grandparents had to prove that a "substantial risk" of harm would result if the changes were not made.

The suit was brought by Neal and Norma Jean Lovlace of Centerville, who have had court-ordered visitation with a 10-year-old granddaughter for seven years.

The couple, who told The Tennessean they were deeply involved in the girl's life before a falling out with her parents, asked the appellate court and then the state Supreme Court for clarity on what legal standards apply when grandparents want to make changes to visitation plans — such as asking for more time or different visit days.

Complex situation

At the heart of the case was a complex family situation.

The Lovlaces had a visitation plan approved by a Hickman County judge in 2006 but later showed in court that their daughter-in-law denied them visits. They requested changes.

Attorneys said Tennessee law gives parents superior rights to grandparents but allows grandparents to seek visitation through the courts. But the law doesn't say much about situations in which grandparents want to adjust visitation, leading three appeals court judges to write differing opinions.

The Supreme Court justices, addressed the families involved, saying they did not condone the uncooperative relationship that had formed between the parents and grandparents, and urged both families to "refocus on how best to foster the welfare of the child."


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