Grandparents’ Rights to Adopt Grandchildren in Tennessee

There’s nothing like the bond of joy between a grandparent and a granddaughter or grandson. Grandparents add to the connections a child has with his/her roots and past.  In an ideal world, grandparents are a wonderful complement to the life children have with their parents. Unfortunately, there are situations where it is necessary for grandparents to intervene and ask the family court for permission to adopt their grandchildren – to protect their grandkids from harm and to provide a healthy living environment.

Reasons grandparents may wish to adopt a grandchild

Generally, family courts in Tennessee will deny requests of a grandparent to adopt a grandchild if there is a living parent who is taking good care of the child. Of course, most grandparents don’t seek to adopt a child who already has a living and loving parent. More often than not, grandparents seek to adopt because:

  • Both parents are deceased.
  • One parent is deceased and the living parent has abandoned the child, or is abusing or neglecting the child.
  • A biological parent can’t be found, and the other biological parent is deceased or unfit.
  • The parents are too immature to care for the child, or lack the cognitive abilities to do so successfully and safely.
  • The biological parents are abusing themselves through drug and/or alcohol

Grandparents need to consider if they are the best choice to adopt their grandchildren. While becoming a parent again is a natural instinct, grandparents should consider:

  • If they will be able to physically take care of the children as the children (and they themselves) age.
  • Whether other younger relatives may be better suited to take care of the children. For example, aunts and uncles may have children of their own that are the same age as the grandchildren.
  • Whether it may be better to seek custody instead of adopting the children, while the unfit parents get treatment so they can raise the children when they become fit.

The key requirements in adoption cases

Courts will not grant any person, including grandparents, the right to adopt a grandchild unless the rights of the biological parents are terminated. Termination can take place through:

  • Proof that the biological parents are deceased.
  • The biological parents voluntarily agree to terminate their parental rights in writing and with court approval.
  • A court hearing in which the court decides that the rights of the biological parents should be terminated. In order to forcefully terminate a biological parent’s parental rights, there normally needs to be a showing that that parent is unfit to take care of their child – usually due to a showing of physical or emotional harm to the child or likelihood of harm to the child.
  • There is a default judgement in which the biological parents are served notice of the adoption request and fail to file a proper reply.

The rights of both biological parents must be terminated in order for anyone to adopt.

In addition to terminating the rights of the biological parents:

  • If a grandparent seeks to adopt a grandchild, the spouse of the grandparent must also agree to the adoption.
  • The six-month residency requirement for adoption is waived when grandparents seek to adopt because they are the child’s natural relatives
  • Grandparents who have acted as foster parents for the child for at least one year are given a preference over other petitioners seeking to adopt the child/children

When grandparents do adopt their grandchildren, they have the same rights and duties as natural parents would have regarding the care and upbringing of the grandchild. If grandparents adopt a child, then they decide who the child spends time with. If grandparents just seek custody of their grandchildren, then the natural parents and other relatives may have the right to seek visitation with the child and may even contest custody. Adoption is an irreversible proceeding.

Post adoption contract agreements

In March 2019, Tennessee approved a law to provide a way for natural parents to have contact with their child through an enforceable post adoption contact agreement (PACA). PACAs have become popular nationwide because they encourage natural parents to agree to parental termination based on the enforceable PACA that they can have some contact with their children after the adoption is approved.

At LaFevor & Slaughter, our Knoxville grandparents’ rights lawyers understand how important it is for grandparents to adopt grandchildren when a child dies or is unable to take care of their children. We advocate for grandparents when the parents of a child can’t or shouldn’t act as parents. We work to provide the best family relationship for children and their grandparents. To understand when, if,  and how grandparents should seek to adopt grandchildren, call us  at 865.272.4454 or fill out our contact form to discuss your concerns. We represent families who live in Knoxville and the surrounding locations.