Grandparent Visitation Denied to Former Step-Grandfather in Tennessee: Spears v. Weatherall

Facts: Stepfather was married to Stepdaughter’s mother for 25 years and helped raised Stepdaughter from the time she was five years old. When Stepdaughter gave birth to Child, Stepfather became actively involved in Child’s life as a step-grandfather. After Stepfather and Stepdaughter’s mother divorced, Stepdaughter continued to allow Stepfather to visit with Child on a regular basis. Later, Stepdaughter began to limit Stepfather’s contact with Child. Stepfather filed a petition for court-ordered grandparent visitation. The trial court dismissed the petition for lack of standing because Stepfather did not fall within the definition of “grandparent” under Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-306(e). Stepfather appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-306(e) provides in part:

[T]he word “grandparent” includes, but is not limited to:

(1) A biological grandparent;

(2) The spouse of a biological grandparent; or

(3) A parent of an adoptive parent.

Stepfather argued that the phrase “includes, but is not limited to” clearly demonstrates that the three examples provided within the definition of “grandparent” were intended to be illustrative, rather than an exhaustive list, of those individuals who have standing to file a petition for grandparent visitation.

Stepdaughter argued that a present legal relationship with the child must exist, either by blood, marriage, or adoption, for an individual to have standing to file a petition for grandparent visitation.

After discussing the principles governing statutory interpretation, the Court ruled as follows:

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-306(e) is clear and unambiguous. The statute explicitly provides that the definition of “grandparent” includes a biological grandparent, the spouse of a biological grandparent, and the parent of an adoptive parent. More importantly, the statute specifically states that “it is not limited to” those three groups of individuals. . . .

[W]e find no support for an interpretation that would give a former step-grandparent standing to file a petition for grandparent visitation under the statute. While we are mindful of the relationship between [Stepfather] and his former step-grandchild, any consideration of this relationship in our determination of standing would be “at odds with the language and structure of the grandparent visitation statute,” and would be “clearly contrary to the Court’s obligation to respect the parents’ constitutional right to raise their child as they see fit.”

Accordingly, the trial court was affirmed.

Spears v. Weatherall (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, April 4, 2012).

Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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