Stepparents are frequently a source of love, emotional and financial support in the lives of children. Unfortunately, following divorce or separation, these important relationships are often overlooked; leaving both the child and stepparent facing great uncertainty as to their continued roles in each other's lives.
Fortunately, Tennessee law recognizes the importance of these relationships and gives stepparents a vehicle by which they can seek court-ordered parenting time with their current or former stepchildren. Specifically, T.C.A. 36-6-603 provides that stepparents or former stepparents may petition the court for specific visitation under the following circumstances: a) the parent to whom the stepparent was married is now deceased; b) the child's parent and the stepparent are divorced or are in the process of seeking a divorce; c) the location of the child's parent to whom the stepparent is married is unknown; d) the court of another state has ordered visitation between the child and the stepparent; e) the child and the stepparent maintained a significant relationship for a substantial period of time, that relationship has been severed or reduced by the other parent, and loss of the relationship is likely to cause substantial harm to the child; or f) there has been an unreasonable denial of visitation by the parent and the denial has caused the child severe harm.
Once the stepparent has proven the existence of at least one (1) of the six (6) circumstances set forth above, the Court then must determine whether there is a risk of substantial mental, emotional, or physical harm to the child if the requested visitation is not permitted. If that question is answered in the affirmative, the Court then determines whether stepparent visitation is in the best interests of the child based upon a number of specific factors.
Stepparents bear the burden of proving that a parent's decisions concerning whether to allow visitation will cause substantial harm to a child, and stepparent visitation cases often involve complicated legal issues which may prove difficult for a layperson to successfully present to the Court. We understand both sides of this important issue and are here to advise parents and stepparents through difficult times.