State Supreme Court Ruling Puts Parents, Grandparents On Equal Footing When Modifying Grandparent Visitation

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Tennessee Supreme Court ruling Friday clarified that parents and grandparents must satisfy the same legal standards in disputes over modifications to existing court-ordered grandparent visitation.

In the court’s unanimous opinion, a parent or grandparent asking a court to modify or terminate court-ordered grandparent visitation must prove that a material change in circumstances has occurred and that a modification or termination of grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interests.

The court reaffirmed earlier decisions that said parents are presumed to have superior parental rights in initial legal proceedings to determine grandparent visitation. The court also reiterated that, to overcome this presumption and obtain visitation, a grandparent must prove: (1) that parents oppose grandparent visitation; (2) that a child will suffer substantial harm if grandparent visitation is denied; and (3) that grandparent visitation is in a child’s best interest.

Friday’s opinion goes on to say that, while parents are afforded the opportunity in an initial proceeding to rely upon the presumption of superior parental rights, the principle does not continue to apply in later proceedings to modify or terminate that grandparent visitation.

In the case before the court, the grandparents received visitation through a court order that both parties agreed to. Not long after the order was filed with the court, the grandparents’ relationship with the child’s parents deteriorated. The grandparents asked the trial court to modify the visitation arrangement agreed to in court and grant them more time with the child.

The parents, in response, asked the trial court to end all grandparent visitation. The trial court declined to terminate grandparent visitation but also declined to increase significantly the grandparents’ visitation with the child. The trial court found that the decline in the parties’ relationship amounted to a material change in circumstances and that the best interests of the child required minor modifications of the previously agreed to visitation schedule.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment, concluding that the trial court should have taken into account the superior parental rights when considering the grandparents’ request to modify court-ordered visitation. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, concluded that the trial court applied the correct standard, and reinstated the trial court’s judgment modifying the grandparent visitation arrangement.

The Supreme Court did not agree with portions of the trial court’s judgment finding the mother in contempt of the initial order for grandparent visitation and requiring her to pay a portion of the grandparents’ attorneys’ fees. The court cautioned that its decision should “in no way be understood as condoning the acrimonious and uncooperative relationship that has existed between” the parents and grandparents and urged them “to refocus on how best to foster the welfare of the child . . . and allow this goal to guide their future interactions with each other.”

To read the Neal Lovlace et al. v. Timothy Kevin Copley Opinion, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit TNCourts.gov.


Cleveland School Board Approves Alternative Education Program With Stand-Alone Building

The Cleveland City School Board on Monday approved a proposal for an alternative education plan for students who may be behind and need extra credits. School Director Martin Ringstaff proposed this alternative education plan and gave seven recommendations for the plan. The plan is to create a new, stand-alone facility for these students to catch up on their credits in ... (click for more)

308 Apartments Planned By Highway 153 In Hixson

The Planning Commission next Monday will hear a proposal for 308 apartments by Highway 153 in Hixson. The property is owned by Ronald Speicher and Ben O'Daniel. The applicant is Asa Engineering. The site is almost 20 acres at the west end of Oyler Lane. The site plan shows 11 buildings, between three and four stories in height. There would be approximately 15.7 dwelling ... (click for more)

Dr. King Wouldn't Approve Of The Mayhem In Baltimore

I am mostly certain that Dr. King never meant for this kind of violence to happen.  I don't recall any of the protests he led not being peaceful.  He would most definitely not approve of people burning, looting, the complete and utter unnecessary mayhem, or anything like what happened in Baltimore. Do you really believe Dr. King would condone 8, 10, 12-year-old children ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘Red Meat To A Mob’

The city of Milwaukee is among the Top 20 Most Violent in the United States. It ranks No. 4 in poverty for cities its size, and is home to the most “make sense” sheriff in the world. I spent most of my morning reading to find out more about Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke because his is a voice we should have been listening to some time ago. He startled all of us on Friday ... (click for more)

Central Nips Hixson On Wild Pitch In 6-AA Baseball, 3-2

It was one of those games that could have gone either way. But when you get to the winners' bracket final in a district baseball tournament, you come to expect games like this. Hixson's Parker Tyo and Central's Bret Hardy hooked up in one of those classic pitcher's duals and both pitched well enough to win. But Hardy gets that honor after his Purple Pounder teammates scored ... (click for more)

Willingham Pitches Boyd-Buchanan Past Silverdale In 5-A Baseball

River Crowther allowed two runs on eight hits in five innings Monday afternoon, but all he has to show for an outstanding effort is a loss after his Silverdale Baptist Academy teammates came up short in a 2-1 winner's bracket final against host Boyd-Buchanan in the District 5-A baseball tournament. Crowther probably deserved a better fate, but he was one-upped by Buccaneer junior ... (click for more)