Jarrett & Price, Savannah Family Law AttorneysWe often receive questions regarding what visitation and custody rights a grandparent might have regarding their grandchild. Georgia law recognizes the importance of grandparents being involved in their grandchildren’s lives. Specifically Georgia law states that “It is the express policy of this state to encourage that a child has continuing contact with parents and grandparents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child after such parents have separated or dissolved their marriage or relationship.” O.C.G.A. 19-9-3(d).
Grandparents and Child Custody in Georgia
When it comes to what enforceable custody rights grandparents have with regard to their grandchildren, we reach a complicated question in Georgia courts. Section 19-7-1(b.1) permits a limited number of third parties, including grandparents, to file for custody against a parent. In order for the grandparent, or other third party, to be successful, they must overcome a rebuttable presumption that it is in the child’s best interest for custody to be awarded to the child’s parents. The grandparent can overcome this if he or she shows that the award of custody to the grandparent is in the best interest of the child.
Georgia courts require that the grandparents prove by clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child that the custody should be awarded to the grandparent to rebut the statutory presumption favoring the award of custody to the child’s parents. In order to satisfy the “best interest of the child” standard under OCGA § 19-7-1(b.1), the grandparent must show by clear and convincing evidence that the child will be harmed physically and emotionally if the court awarded custody to the parents. The grandparent does not need to show that the child would be harmed socially or economically. Once the grandparent meets this burden, he or she must then show that a custody award to him or her would best promote the child’s health, welfare, and happiness. This is a difficult standard to meet, but each child custody case turns on its own facts.
Grandparents and Visitation Rights in Georgia
Georgia law provides that any grandparent has the right to file an action for visitation rights of their grandchild and to intervene in an action concerning custody of the child, a divorce of the child’s parents, termination of perental rights, or visitation rights of the child. O.C.G.A. § 19-7—3(b). The statute further provides that the adoption of the minor child by a stepparent does not impact the grandparents’ rights to seek visitation of the grandchild.
The Grandparents Visitation Statute allows for a court to grant a grandparent visitation rights only if the grandparent establishes that “the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless such visitation is granted, and if the best interests of the child would be served by such visitation.” O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(c). The grandparent must present clear and convincing evidence to meet the burden of proof. The statute speaks of the requirement of harm to the child if visitation was not granted. The courts have read this requirement to mean that the grandparents must show more than that the child would benefit from contact with the grandparents. Any detrimental impact to the grandparents as a result of lack of visitation with the grandchild is irrelevant to the court’s determination on whether to grand visitation rights.
The attorneys at Jarrett & Price have been practicing family law for several years and have handled numerous child custody cases. If you are a grandparent and are concerned about your grandchild’s care, contact us at 912.401.8880 or complete the contact us form below.