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It Takes a Village

Jamie and Ken, Jr. have been married for 10 years and have two children together. Karen and Ken, Sr., Ken’s parents, have been actively involved in the children’s lives. Jamie and Ken, Jr. believe that his parents have a history of oftentimes overstepping their boundaries. Karen and Ken, Sr. has always tried to use their wisdom and experience to help guide and assist Jamie and Ken, Jr. in their parenting. Karen and Ken, Sr. have only showed an outpouring of love and want the best for their grandchildren. Jamie and Ken, Jr. want to establish some boundaries and limit Karen and Ken’s visitation. Feeling hurt and ostracized, Karen and Ken, Sr. want to seek advice on grandparent’s rights.

The history of grandparents’ rights in Georgia has been continuously developing. In Brooks v. Parkerson, a maternal grandmother filed a petition to establish grandparental rights over her grandchild. The petition was opposed by both of the child’s parents, whose parents were still married and living in an intact home.

Georgia’s statute regarding grandparent’s right enacted in 1988 granted any grandparent the right to seek visitation of a minor grandchild in three ways: by filing an original action for visitation rights, by intervening in certain existing actions including those where the custody of a minor child is in issue, or by proceeding where there has been an adoption in which the adopted child has been adopted by the child’s blood relative or a stepparent. The statute further provided that “the court may grant any grandparent of the child reasonable visitation rights upon proof of special circumstances which make such visitation rights necessary to the best interests of the child.”

The Georgia Supreme Court found that Georgia’s 1988 statute for grandparent visitation was unconstitutional. The Court further held that a parent’s decision about visitation could not be overruled without a showing of harm to the child. The showing of harm standard has been a difficult standard to meet.

Georgia revised its grandparent visitation statute in 2012. Grandparents still may not sue for visitation of children living in an intact family, which means one in which both parents live with their children.

The statute outlines that grandparents may sue for visitation either in an original action or as part of another court procedure, such as an action between parents over custody or visitation. The statute has also outlined factors that a court must consider when determining whether a grandparent is entitled to established visitation:

  • The child resided with the grandparent for six months or longer;

• The grandparent provided financial support for the child’s basic needs for at least one year;

• The grandparent had established a pattern of visiting the child or providing child care; or

• Other circumstances indicate that “emotional or physical harm” would result from a lack of contact.

The role of grandparents in our lives are essential, just as essential as parents. Georgia has outlined the ways in which grandparents can establish visitation with their grandchildren under certain circumstances. What the legislature cannot establish, however, is the path which families can take in ensuring that everyone feels a part of a loving and healthy family unit. That part is up to the family itself to work together to create a nurturing environment for children to thrive.

As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” But at least, in Georgia, under the right circumstances, grandparents can keep themselves firmly located in that village.

Denethris Barnes

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