Becoming a grandparent should be among the most joyous moments in your life. As a grandparent you look forward to enjoying all the perks of parenting without all the responsibilities. Sometimes, however, a grandparent feels the need to step in and take over the role of parent. If you find yourself in that position, and you believe the circumstances are unlikely to change in the near future, you may wish to obtain legal custody of your grandchild. A Murfreesboro custody lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby discusses the ins and outs of when and how a grandparent may be awarded custody of a grandchild in Tennessee.
What Does “Custody” Mean?
It is important to understand the legal distinction between guardianship and custody as they apply to your grandchild. Grandparents often help raise their grandchildren. In fact, a grandchild may spend extended periods of time with a grandparent or even live with the grandparent; however, absent a court order reflecting guardianship or custody of the child, the grandparent has no legal rights nor responsibilities regarding the child.
Guardianship is a legal term that describes something between the informal assistance a grandparent might provide and full custody of a grandchild. To become your grandchild’s legal guardian, you must petition a court and obtain a court order appointing you as the child’s guardian. Temporary guardianship can be obtained fairly easily with parental consent. It is also possible to be awarded guardianship over a child if the parent(s) object. If you are awarded guardianship of the child, you will have the right to raise the child and make decisions regarding the child; however, the parent(s) will still have legal rights to the child. The court can also limit the authority you have as the child’s legal guardian.
The term “custody” is somewhat of an antiquated term; however, it is usually used to refer to broader and more permanent situation with a child. Obtaining legal custody of a grandchild is not an easy task. Unless both parents are deceased, you must contend with the fact that Tennessee law begins with the presumption that parents have “superior parental rights.” In practical terms, this means that if you file a petition for custody of your grandchild and the parent(s) object you will generally need to prove that the parent poses a risk of substantial harm to the child, the parent is an unfit parent, or the child is a “dependent and neglected child” within the meaning of Tennessee law. As you may imagine, the burden of proof required to get past the “superior parental rights” is rather high – but not impossible.
When Might Custody Be Awarded to a Grandparent?
Keep in mind that all legal decisions made by a court relating to a minor child must be made using the “best interest of the child” standard. The most common way for a child to end up in the legal custody of a grandparent is when the child is declared a “dependent and neglected” child under Tennessee law. That decision is made by the juvenile court system. Situations where the child’s physical and/or emotional needs are not being met, parent(s) abusing drugs, or a child who has been adjudged a juvenile delinquent are common examples of cases that end up in juvenile court. In the court determines that the child is a “dependent and neglected” child, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services will look for a family member who is both qualified and willing to care for the child. It is important to note, however, that before a judge is likely to award custody of a child to a grandparent, you will need to prove that both parents are unfit and/or unwilling to raise the child.
Contact a Murfreesboro Custody Lawyer
If you have additional questions about how to petition for custody of your grandchild in Tennessee, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro custody lawyer to discuss your legal options. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560to schedule your free appointment.