In the state of Georgia, aunts and uncles have important legal rights when it comes to the custody and visitation of their nieces and nephews.
According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) Section 19-7-3, they have the right to intervene in open custody cases and reasonable visitation can be granted if it is deemed in the best interest of the child.
Of course, proving that harm will occur if visitation is denied can be a tall order for anyone, which is why it's so important to have an experienced legal team on your side.
The court will consider various factors and circumstances in making their decision, and navigating these intricacies can be difficult without proper guidance.
Ultimately, the well-being of the child is the top priority, and it's reassuring to know that aunts and uncles can play an active role in ensuring their safety and happiness.
When you have the right to intervene as an Aunt or Uncle
Aunts and uncles in Georgia have certain rights when it comes to the being able to have court-ordered visitation with their nieces and nephews.
According to OCGA 19-7-3, you have the right to intervene in an open custody case involving the child or children, to seek visitation rights from the court. To exercise this right, you must be the brother or sister of one a parent of the child, regardless of whether they are alive or deceased.
Also, it does not matter if the parent who is your sibling has had their parental rights terminated or not - even if your sibling's rights have been terminated, you still are able to intervene in other custody issues (such as adoption) concerning your niece or nephew.
This statute recognizes the important role aunts and uncles can play in the lives of children and is designed to ensure that they have the opportunity to have a say in their future.
If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to seek the advice of a knowledgeable family law attorney who can guide you through the legal process and ensure that your rights are protected.
What the court looks at to determine whether or not to grant Aunt or Uncle visitation
The courts in Georgia will look at several factors and circumstances in deciding whether to grant an Aunt's or Uncle's request for visitation with their nieces and nephews. Additionally, the court could also order the services of a guardian ad litem to assist with their investigation, and has the ability to order the parties to attend mediation in order to see if a resolution outside of a court hearing can be reached.
The standard the court looks at in deciding Aunt and Uncle visitation cases is to see if, by clear and convincing evidence, that the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless the visitation was granted, and also if the visitation serves the best interests of the child.
It's not just enough to prove that you are related to the child and would not get to know them if visitation was barred - you need to already have a substantial, pre-existing relationship with your niece or nephew.
For looking at whether the health or welfare of the child would be harmed, the court must take into account any of the following, and is allowed to find that harm would result when, before anything was filed with the court:
- The child lived and resided with you for six months or longer.
- You provided financial support for the child's basic needs for at least one year.
- You had an established pattern of regular visitation or child care with the child.
- Or, any other circumstances that exist to show that emotional or physical harm would be likely to happen if visitation was denied.
Also, while the opinion of the parents as to whether or not to support your visitation with the child is taken into account by the court, if you can show there was a preexisting relationship before anything was filed with the court, you could still prevail. You just need to continue to show that emotional harm could result if you were not allowed to continue to see the child.
Possibility of the court ordering a guardian ad litem and/or mediation
In some instances, the court may want to appoint a guardian ad litem, an attorney for the child, to act as an investigator for the court, to look at the above factors and see if visitation would be in the best interest of the child.
If this happens, the court has full right to order you as the requesting party to pay for the entire fee of the guardian ad litem. Additionally, the court is also able to order the case to go to mediation, to see if you and the parents can come to an agreement on your visitation with the child.
The court has the full right in this case to order you to pay all the costs of mediation, as well. If you do not go to mediation or if no agreement is reached at mediation, the court is required to set a time for a hearing on your request for Aunt or Uncle visitation rights.
Details about visitation once granted
If the court decides to grant you your Aunt or Uncle visitation, you will get, at minimum, 24 hours in a one-month period. It may be more than that, of course, depending on the specific facts of your case and the depth of the relationship with your niece or nephew. This visitation time is not allowed to interfere with the child's school or regularly scheduled extracurricular activities - which of course makes sense.
Even if you only get the minimum time, it's important to remember that this is court-ordered, enforceable time, as it is primarily for the benefit of your niece or nephew, and their emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
If a parent or other custodian denies you this set court-ordered visitation time, you have every right to bring it up to the court, and ask the court to enforce your visitation order. As well as make up any lost time due to being denied your rightful visitation.
This is a key component for you to be able to keep your rightful title as Aunt or Uncle to your nieces and nephews.
What will happen regardless of visitation being granted or not
Although you may try your best, it could be that the court still denies to grant you your Aunt or Uncle visitation rights. This does not mean you can never see your niece or nephew again - but in order to see them, you must get permission from their parents in order to see them. It will not be a guaranteed court-order, but there is always a chance you can work with the parents later on, once things settle down.
Another thing to note is that, regardless of your Aunt or Uncle visitation rights being granted or denied, it is still possible for the court to order the parent with custody of the child to notify you of every performance of your niece or nephew that the public is allowed to attend.
This includes musical concerts, graduations, recitals, and sporting events or games. Georgia law wants to protect the relationships between Aunts and Uncles and their nieces and nephews, while at the same time recognizing that parents may not want their own siblings in their lives all the time.
It is not an ideal situation, but it can be the silver lining on an otherwise rain-filled cloud.
How We Can Help
As we've seen, in the state of Georgia, Aunts and Uncles have the right to seek visitation with their nieces and nephews under certain circumstances.
When a parent denies access to their child, Aunts and Uncles can intervene in court to request visitation rights - provided there is already a custody case, such as a divorce case or modification of custody case, in progress.
However, the court will consider various factors before granting such rights, such as the strength of the relationship between the Aunt or Uncle and the child, and the child's best interests.
If visitation is granted, the frequency and duration of visits will be determined by the court. On the other hand, if visitation is denied, Aunts and Uncles may still have legal options available to them.
At Your Law Firm, we understand the complexities of Aunt and Uncle visitation rights and are here to help you navigate the legal process and fight for the best interests of both the child and your family.