Tonight’s post was written by one of our Marietta Grandparents’ Rights attorneys, Naomi Lumpkin.
When people think about custody or best interest of a child, they instantly think Mom and Dad. A recurring theme in today’s society is grandparents who step up to assist their children in the care of their grandchildren or even raising their grandchildren on their own.
Not too long ago, I was hired on a case where grandparents had been unofficially taking care of their grandchildren for the last couple of years. Mother wasn’t ready to be a mother and biological father had taken off and had not bothered to check in on the children or help assist in their basic needs.
One day, father showed up on my clients’ door steps demanding that his children be returned to him immediately. Our clients had never gone to court for guardianship or custody and did not have any paperwork establishing that they had any rights to the children.
The question becomes then, do grandparents have any rights when it comes to custody and visitation of their grandchildren?
The short answer is yes. Depending on what specific rights the grandparents are looking for, Georgia has a statute specific to grandparents’ visitation under O.C.G.A. 19-7-3. This statute provides that “The court may grant any grandparent of the child reasonable visitation rights if the court finds 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.” This gives grandparents the right to petition the court for visitation rights, much like a non-custodial parent, if they can prove at least one of the following:
(1) minor children have lived with grandparents for six months or more;
(2) grandparents provided financial support for the needs of children for at least one year;
(3) an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the grandparent with the child; or,
(4) any other circumstances exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.
Georgia also has a statute, O.C.G.A. 19-7-1, in which grandparents are allowed to petition the court for temporary or permanent custody of the minor child. Under this statute, the court, “in the exercise of its sound discretion and taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, determines that an award of custody to such third party is for the best interest of the child or children and will promote their welfare and happiness.”
My case turned out favorable for our clients. (You could probably tell from my brief description that it should.) The judge felt that the relationship established between my clients and their grandchildren was so strong that removing them from their household would be harmful to their well-being. In this particular instance, the bond and relationship built outweighed the fact that biological father claimed to have seen the light on the road to Damascus and now wanted to take back his responsibilities. Our clients received custody of the children. The biological father receiving visitation. All was right with the world.
Ever case is different. Grandparents’ wants are not automatically superior to those of the biological parent. Parents wishes play a large role coupled with the best interest of the children in determining custody. That does not mean that grandparents’ wants are not a feat that cannot be won. An experienced Grandparents’ Rights attorney can help guide you through this process and determine what is the best case scenario and best strategy for you.