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

Friday, September 06, 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.


Police Seek Lookout Mountain Man, 73, Missing Since Friday; Van Reportedly Found At Trion

The Dade County Sheriff's Department is looking for Freddie Wooten, 73. Mr. Wooten was driving a 2002 Ford Windstar minivan with the license plate number, THM1418. He was last seen wearing a light blue shirt and navy pants. His van was reportedly found in a pool in Trion, Ga., with no sign of him. Anyone who has seen Mr. Wooten, or has information regarding the case, ... (click for more)

Dog Saves Woman From Fire At Highway 58 Area

A homeowner reported that her dog saved her life early Friday morning. At 12:52 a.m. , the homeowner called 911 reporting a fire at 8411 Providence Road (Highway 58 area). The Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department responded and arrived reporting a log cabin with flames coming through the roof. Firefighters worked quickly to contain the fire, but it was a challenge due to  ... (click for more)

Don't Be Quick To Discard Common Core

Let's not be too quick to discard Common Core. A recent article in the Tennessean on  Sunday detailed Common Core successes the Kingsport, Tennessee school system.  I encourage you to read it.  The article also noted that Tennessee was recently ranked as one of the fastest improving states in education after implementing portions of the Common Core curriculum ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Our Tubman Goat-Roping

Every spring there comes a bright day on the ranch when the straw-boss decrees a goat-roping should take place. What really happens is the veteran cowboys arm the greenhorns with some lariats late in the afternoon and take them to the pen that holds some Billy goats. This is before they get into bigger beasts -- horses and cattle – yet what appears to be easy most certainly is not. ... (click for more)

Football Mocs Receive No. 8 Seed For FCS Playoffs

The hugs, high fives and first pumps by the Tennessee at Chattanooga football players late Sunday morning let everyone know in Moc Nation that the Blue and Gold had received a highy-coveted seed and would be hosting a second round NCAA FCS playoff game Dec 6 at Finley Stadium at 1 p.m. "When the television announcers called our name as the No.8 seed (out of eight ... (click for more)

Missouri Hangs On, Turns Back Tennessee, 29-21

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Missouri pin-pricked Joshua Dobbs’ bubble of invincibility Saturday night at Neyland Stadium. The nationally ranked Tigers drove a stake in Tennessee’s heart with Maty Mauk’s 73-yard touchdown pass to Jimmie Hunt in the fourth quarter, held Dobbs in check most of the game and beat the Vols, 29-21, before 95,821 fans on a chilly night on the banks of the Tennessee ... (click for more)