Grandparent's Rights: "I want to be involved in my grandchildren's lives"
Protecting your rights as a grandparent - How We Can Help
As a grandparent, there are few things more precious than spending time with your grandchildren. Unfortunately, there are circumstances where access to those beloved moments may be in jeopardy. In Georgia, grandparents may be eligible to petition for visitation rights, custody, or even adoption of their grandchildren. Navigating the legal process can be overwhelming, but with the help of an experienced legal team, you can better understand your rights and options. Whether you are hoping to establish regular visitation or seeking full custody, it is important to understand the laws and requirements specific to Georgia. This post will provide an overview of grandparent's rights in Georgia and explore the various avenues available to grandparents seeking to establish legal relationships with their grandchildren that we offer at Your Law Firm.
Grandparent Visitation - the Right to See and Spend Time with Your Grandchildren
As we all know, the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren is a special one. However, there may be times when that bond is disrupted due to complicated family dynamics. In Georgia, grandparents do have a legal right to seek visitation with their grandchildren under certain circumstances. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) Section 19-7-3 outlines the criteria for when a grandparent can bring an action for visitation and when they cannot. First, the parents of the grandchild must be separated and not living together with the child, in order for a grandparent to bring a court action for visitation. Grandparents have a special right to file an original action for visitation at any time - unlike other family members which must wait for there to be a custody case already in motion before they can file what is called an intervention into the case, to try and gain custody or visitation of the child.
Once a grandparent has filed for visitation rights, the court will then look to see if there would be harm done to the health or welfare of the child, should the visitation not be granted, and to make sure that visitation is in the best interest of the child. There must be evidence of a preexisting relationship between the child and their grandparents. Factors that help with the granting of visitation include: the child lived with their grandparents for six or more months in the past, the grandparents provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year, there was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the grandparent with the child, or any other circumstances like these that show emotional or physical harm to the child would be reasonably likely if visitation was not granted.
A grandparent can only file for this kind of original visitation request case once every two years, and they cannot file it if another custody action regarding the child is going on. If that is so, the grandparent can simply seek to intervene in the open custody matter.
Also, after visitation rights have been granted to a grandparent, the legal custodian or guardian or parent of the child can request the court to revoke or change those grandparent visitation rights if they can show good cause why they should be revoked or changed. The court can then grant or deny that custodian/parent's request. These kinds of petitions to revoke or change grandparent visitation can only be filed once every two years.
We understand the importance of maintaining family relationships and our legal team at Your Law Firm is here to assist grandparents in navigating the legal terrain to ensure their rights are respected. Don't hesitate to reach out to us for guidance in resolving any issues related to grandparent visitation.
Grandparent Custody - Best Interest of the Child
In some instances, grandparents can take it one step further than visitation rights and become a legal custodian of their grandchild. One of those instances is found under Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) Section 19-7-1(b.1). Under this law, grandparents, along with other select close relatives of a child, can seek to become custodians of that child when they can overcome the legal presumption that it is in the best interest of the child to stay with their parent or parents. This is an uphill battle, but it is not impossible. One thing the courts will look at is to see if the child will suffer either physical harm or significant, long-term emotional harm if they remain with their parent. Also, the courts will investigate the particular needs and circumstances of the child, include who their past and present caretakers were, who the child has formed psychological bonds with and how strong those bonds are, who among the parties seeking custody has actually been interested in and made contact with the child over time, and if there are any unique medical or psychological needs the child has.
If you're a grandparent and you've mostly cared for your grandchildren over their lifetime, especially due to any physical or emotional abuse by the parent to the child, this may be a statute for you to receive custody under. The evidence must be very clear as to the harm the parents have caused. You must also be regularly involved in your grandchildren's lives - and it helps if your grandchild or grandchildren are already living with you.
Grandparent Custody - Equitable Caregiver
Georgia's Equitable Caregiver Act, also known as Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) Section 19-7-3.1, is a crucial piece of legislation that recognizes the important role of people, such as grandparents, who take on a parental role in raising children, when they otherwise would not be required to do so. This act is not limited to grandparents, but does help gain a more secure custody for a grandparent who has been a parent to their grandchild. If you can show all of the following, then this law may apply to you:
- You have fully and completely undertaken a permanent, unequivocal, committed, and responsible parental role in your grandchild's life;
- You have engaged in consistent caretaking of your grandchild;
- You have established a bonded and dependent relationship with your grandchild, which relationship was fostered or supported by their parent, and you and their parent have understood, acknowledged, or accepted that or behaved as though you were in fact a parent to your grandchild; AND
- You have accepted full and permanent responsibilities as a parent of your grandchild without expectation of financial compensation.
Once you apply for this type of custody with the court, the court will also look to see if your grandchild will suffer physical harm or long-term emotional harm should custody not be granted to you, and also to see if continuing the relationship as it is between you and your grandchild is in the child's best interest.
If the court grants you this type of custody, you become a "third parent" - both of the other parents' rights are not terminated, they are still legally the parents. Yet you can rest assured knowing that you are an Equitable Caregiver, able to freely continue with your role as a parent in your grandchild's life.
The ultimate custody move that a grandparent can take is to actually adopt their grandchild. Under Georgia's OCGA 19-8-7 law, grandparents can adopt their grandchildren in certain situations. Such situations include the death of both parents or their legal incompetency, or if the parents voluntarily consent to the adoption. Additionally, if you can prove that the parent has abandoned or is otherwise harmful to the child, you can request that the court terminate the parent's rights even over that parent's objection. We often move to terminate parental rights when the child's parents have drug or abuse issues, and the grandparents have been the one to care for the child for more than one year's time. Grandparents who wish to adopt must meet certain requirements, such as being of sound mind and body and providing a stable and secure home for the child. The adoption process involves court hearings and documentation, and it is recommended that grandparents seek the assistance of a qualified attorney to navigate the process successfully. Grandparent adoption can be a fulfilling way to provide a loving and supportive home for a grandchild in need.
How We Can Help
As grandparents, you cherish the special bond you have with your grandchildren. However, sometimes circumstances can arise that threaten that bond. Perhaps your grandchild's parents are going through a divorce, or there has been a disagreement within the family that has resulted in restricted visitation rights. Your Law Firm is here to help. Our team of experienced family law attorneys is dedicated to fighting for your rights as a grandparent. We can help you establish legal visitation agreements, explore options for grandparent custody, and even guide you through the process of adopting your grandchild if it is in their best interest. Our approach is both professional and friendly, and we are committed to providing personalized support to each of our clients as we work together to protect your relationship with your grandchildren.