There are times in a parent’s life when they may not be able to care for their children. They might be dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues which cause them to be incapable of caring for their child temporarily until they get these issues sorted out. For whatever reason a parent must temporarily set aside their parenting responsibilities, they will not lose their “superior” parental rights unless they knowingly sign them away.
What are parental superior rights?
The parental superior rights doctrine is a legal principle in cases involving the custody of a minor child, where the natural parents are presumed to have superior rights than a third party might have over the child.”
A child’s parents must always be the first choice when it comes to determining child custody. Under Tennessee law, a non-parent would have to demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence that the child would face substantial harm if custody was awarded to the parent. If the non-parent (whether a grandparent or any other third party) can prove that the child would face substantial harm with the parent, the court would then decide whether changing the custodial arrangement would be in the best interest of the child.
The decision to relinquish superior parental rights to the care and custody of a child is one that should be considered carefully because once the crisis has passed, and the parent would like to gain custody of their child again, those rights are not automatically restored. In the Tennessee Supreme Court case of Blair v. Badenhope, 77 S.W.3d 137, 143 (Tenn. 2002), the court outlined four circumstances under which a parent enjoys the presumption of rights:
- When no order exists that transfers custody from the natural parent;
- When the order transferring custody from the natural parent is accomplished by fraud or without notice to the parent;
- When the order transferring custody from the natural parent is invalid on its face; and
- When the natural parent cedes only temporary and informal custody to non-parents
Once a parent has relinquished their parental rights either voluntarily or through a court deciding that it would be harmful for the child to remain in the parent’s custody, they have lost that presumption of parental superior rights and they will be forced to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that getting custody of their child once again would be in the best interests of the child.
At LaFevor & Slaughter, we work to protect the best interests of your child when you are facing a child custody dispute. You may benefit from the advice of a Knoxville family law attorney who will guide you through the challenging process of divorce that includes a custody battle. You are welcome to give us a call at 865.272.4454 or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation with an experienced Knoxville family law lawyer today.