Ignoring Text Messages Amounts to Opposing Grandparent Visitation in Greeneville, TN: Chamberlain v. Brown

Facts: Grandmother is the paternal grandmother of Child. When Child was born, Mother, Father, and Child lived with Grandmother for more than 2 1/2 years.

Less than a year after Mother, Father, and Child moved out of Grandmother’s home, Mother and Father were arrested. Child was found to be dependent and neglected, and Child’s maternal grandparents were given custody of Child. During this time, Grandmother visited Child for 24 hours every other week.

A little over a year later, Mother regained custody of Child. The court prohibited Father from having any contact with Child because of Father’s substance abuse issues.

After Mother regained custody of Child, Grandmother said Mother allowed her to see Child a few times before all visitation stopped.

Grandmother petitioned for grandparent visitation of one weekend per month.

knoxville grandparent visitationThe last time Grandmother saw Child was approximately one year before trial. Grandmother testified she was unable to contact Mother because Mother’s phone number had changed. Grandmother explained that when she was able to visit with Child, she set up the visits by texting Mother.

Mother testified that Grandmother had her phone number and it had not changed. Mother was asked if Grandmother had contacted her since the last visit, to which Mother applied: “I remember maybe once. I was pregnant at the time and working, and I may have forgot, there was just one time that I remember. I don’t remember getting any phone calls, no voicemails, just texts.”

The trial court granted Grandmother’s petition for grandparent visitation. It found that Mother denied visitation for Grandmother and severed the grandparent-child relationship for reasons other than abuse or the danger of substantial harm. The trial court also found that severing this particular grandparent-child relationship was likely to cause substantial emotional harm to Child.

Mother appealed.

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

Although every aspect of the trial court’s ruling was appealed, the only argument I found noteworthy involved the issue of whether Mother opposed Child’s visitation with Grandmother.

In order to obtain grandparent visitation from a Tennessee court, the grandparent must prove, among other things, that the parent actually opposes the grandparent’s visitation with the child. Without parental opposition, the grandparent visitation statute, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-306, cannot be invoked.

The Court held that Mother ignoring Grandmother’s text messages requesting visitation amounted to Mother opposing or denying visitation:

The evidence in the record on appeal shows that while Mother never specifically stated that Grandmother could not have visitation, Mother denied Grandmother visitation by ignoring or avoiding the text messages sent by Grandmother, which previously had been used as a method for setting up visitation. The end result was that Grandmother was denied visitation. The evidence in the record on appeal does not preponderate against the Trial Court’s finding that Mother denied Grandmother visitation.

Thus, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

K.O.’s Comment: As explained in Huls v. Alford, imposing limitations and conditions on once liberal visitation does not necessarily mean the parent is opposed to visitation. Opposing visitation includes situations both where visitation is completely denied and where visitation is technically not opposed, but where the frequency and/or conditions imposed on the visitation by the parents are such that it equates to a denial of visitation.

Chamberlain v. Brown (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, December 19, 2016).

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

Posted by

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.

Leave a Comment