A recent ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court in the case of Patten v. Ardis, decided June 29, 2018, will have far-reaching effects in the realm of family law in Georgia respecting grandparent visitation rights.
Prior to Patten, O.C.G.A §19-7-3(d) permitted a court to grant grandparent visitation with his or her grandchildren in the event that his or her child passed away, became incarcerated, or became otherwise incapacitated so long as the Court found such visitation would be in the child’s best interest. This would mean that in those certain circumstances a Court would be permitted to order visitation between a grandparent and grandchild even over the objection of the surviving parent so long as such visitation would serve the child’s best interest. This statute has been used in many instances by grandparents to obtain visitation rights with their grandchildren in order to ensure that some connection between the deceased, incarcerated, or incapacitated parent and the child in question could be maintained.
However, in Patten, the Supreme Court of Georgia found this provision to violate the Georgia Constitution as it would violate the constitutionally protected right of a parent to the care, custody, and control of their children. This right, the Court noted, is deeply embedded in our legal history. As the Court stated, in order to supersede this right of an otherwise fit parent, grandparents have a much higher burden than was permitted under O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(d).
Thus, as of now and going forward, even in cases where a parent has died, been incarcerated, or otherwise incapacitated a grandparent seeking visitation with their grandchild has the burden to show that a denial of such visitation would cause harm to the child in question, not simply that such visitation would be desirable or good for the child. Only time will tell how the Georgia Legislature will respond to this ruling.
For more information about the rights of grandparents in Georgia, visit our Grandparents Visitation Page.