Grandparents’ rights are a fairly new issue in Georgia because the state only strengthened the rights of grandparents in 2012. The rights of grandparents in regards to visitation are outlined in the Georgia Code, O.C.G.A. 19-7-3. Grandparents do not have a presumptive right to visitation but do have the right to seek visitation through the courts.
Reasonable visitation is most likely to be awarded to the grandparents if courts make a determination that: (1) the child’s health or welfare would be harmed if visitation with grandparents is denied and (2) visitation with grandparents is in the child’s best interest. There is an exception if the child’s parent is deceased or incapacitated. In this case, the grandparent does not have to show that visitation is in the child’s best interest. If the courts find the presence of any one of the following factors, there is likely to be a determination in favor of the grandparents.
- if the child resided with the grandparent(s) for at least six (6) months
- if the grandparent(s) provided financial support for the child’s basic needs for at least one (1) year
- if there was an established pattern of consistent visitation with or child care provided by the grandparent(s)
- any other circumstances that indicate harm to the child would be reasonably likely if visitation with grandparent(s) was denied
There are some limitations on the rights of grandparents to file an action for visitation. Grandparents may only file an action for visitation every two years. If the child lives with both parents and the parents are not separated, grandparents may not file for visitation at all. Parents have the right, if they can show good cause, to ask the court to revoke or modify the grandparent visitation. This can also only be filed every two years. The parents’ wishes are taken into account by the court but parents do not have the final say on whether a grandparent will be allowed to visit their grandchild. The courts may appoint a guardian ad litem, at cost to the grandparents, to act as “eyes and ears of the court”. The guardian will usually make home visits and conduct interviews with the child, grandparents, and other relevant parties and report his or her findings to the court.
The rights of grandparents are a relatively new legal issue in Georgia. If a grandparent is seeking to exercise a right to visitation, it is important to hire a lawyer because there is no clear history to demonstrate what is the most likely outcome. A lawyer will be necessary to advocate and to guide the grandparents through, what can be, a very complicated legal process.