Termination of Grandparent Visitation Vacated in Clarksville, Tennessee: Natasha S. v. Madison M.

May 3, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Father is a twice-convicted sex offender, including once for the statutory rape of then 14-year-old Mother (which resulted in Child).

Mother and Child lived with Adoptive Parents, who began the process of adopting Child with Mother’s consent.

A few months later, Mother died.

Child’s maternal grandmother (Mother’s biological mother) petitioned for custody of Child. This was resolved through an agreement for grandparent visitation subject to these conditions:

  • Grandmother shall prohibit all contact between Child and Father or his family.
  • Grandmother will not serve as a conduit for communications to Child from Father and his family.
  • Grandmother shall not discuss Father’s relationship to Child.

Later, Father’s parental rights were terminated, and Child’s adoption by Adoptive Parents became final.

Three years later, Adoptive Parents petitioned to terminate Grandmother’s visitation for allowing contact between Father and Child.

After a two-day trial, the trial court found that Grandmother’s allowing contact between Child and Father/registered sex offender posed a substantial risk of harm to Child. Grandmother’s visitation was terminated and placed “at the discretion and direction” of Adoptive Parents.

Grandmother appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s judgment.

Tennessee’s Grandparent Visitation Statute requires courts to consider “the presence of a danger of substantial harm to the child” when determining whether to order grandparent visitation.

The Court found the trial court applied the wrong legal standard to this modification of grandparent visitation:

The trial court’s analysis shows that it treated this case as if it involved a grandparent’s petition for visitation. This case does not, however, involve a petition for grandparent visitation. Rather, Adoptive Parents have requested the termination of the grandparent visitation ordered by the trial court [] during a contested adoption.

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In Lovlace v. Copley, the [Tennessee Supreme] Court concluded:

The burden of proof is upon the party seeking modification or termination to demonstrate, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a material change in circumstances has occurred which makes the requested modification or termination of grandparent visitation in the child’s best interests. In determining the best interests of the child, courts shall consider the factors enumerated in the Grandparent Visitation Statute.

In light of the foregoing analysis, we agree with Grandmother’s argument that the trial court in the present case applied an erroneous legal standard by failing to determine whether there had been a material change in circumstances and whether modification of Grandmother’s visitation was in the best interest of the child.

The trial court’s judgment was vacated, and the case remanded for consideration of a material change of circumstances and the child’s best interest.

Natasha S. v. Madison M. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, April 14, 2021).

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Termination of Grandparent Visitation Vacated in Clarksville, Tennessee: Natasha S. v. Madison M. was last modified: April 28th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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