Facts: Since Child’s birth, Grandparents babysat Child regularly while Mother worked, often several days each week. After a falling out between Mother and Grandparents, Mother did not bring Child to Grandparents for normal visits or babysitting. Grandparents petitioned for grandparent visitation.
At the time of trial, Child was two years old.
Mother testified that Child is “happier than ever.” Mother stated that her relationship with her father — Child’s maternal grandfather — now is “nonexistent.” When asked if Child got excited when he saw the Grandparents on their visits, Mother testified that Child is excited to see anyone. According to Mother, her father verbally abused her over the years. Mother testified that the Grandparents had encouraged Child to call them mommy and daddy, which “appalled” Mother. Mother stated that she ceased grandparent visitation to protect Child from “emotional damage.”
The trial court found that Grandparents failed to show that severance of their relationship with Child would result in any danger of substantial harm to Child. The trial court also found that Child is well cared for by Mother and her husband. Finally, it found that a child of such a young age is capable of adapting to changes in visitation without significant emotional harm.
On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
The issue on appeal was whether the cessation of the significant existing grandparent-grandchild relationship would cause severe emotional harm or other direct and substantial harm to the child.
After reviewing the record, the Court ruled:
The mere fact that a significant existing relationship exists will not suffice for a showing of substantial harm…. The statute requires the Grandparents to prove not just the existence of a significant relationship with the Child but also that a termination of that significant relationship would pose a danger of substantial harm to the Child….
[T]he evidence does not preponderate in favor of a finding that the cessation of this relationship likely would cause substantial harm, of any sort under the statute, to the Child. The Grandparents are correct that expert testimony is not required to prove either the significant existing relationship with the Child or that the termination of that relationship is likely to result in severe emotional harm to the Child. This does not, however, eliminate the requirement under the statute that the Grandparents must prove that termination of the relationship between the Grandparents and the Child is likely to result in substantial harm to the Child. As found by the Trial Court, the Grandparents simply did not present any such proof. We are not unmindful of the fact that the very young age of the Child likely was a critical factor in the Grandparents’ inability to present proof that a termination of the relationship likely would result in substantial harm to the Child, but that neither lessens nor eliminates the statutory obligation placed upon the Grandparents to present such proof.
The evidence reflects that the Child is doing well at present. The Grandparents undeniably care deeply for the Child and want to spend time with him. This, however, is not the standard for interfering with parental rights and awarding grandparent visitation.
Accordingly, the denial of grandparent visitation was affirmed.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.
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