Like many states, Georgia allows grandparents to seek reasonable visitation with their grandchildren. The visitation rights of grandparents, set out in section 19-7-3 of the Georgia Code, are explained below. For all of our articles on Georgia family law issues, see our Georgia Divorce and Family Law page.
Do grandparents have the right to seek visitation with their grandchildren in Georgia?
Yes. Georgia law gives grandparents the right to ask a court for visitation with their grandchildren. Grandparents can exercise this right in one of two ways.
First, grandparents may file their own, original court action for visitation with their grandchild. However, there are some limitations to this general rule: they may only file an original action for visitation once every two years, and they can't seek visitation with a grandchild who lives with both parents, if the parents have not separated.
Alternatively, grandparents can "intervene" (join) as a party to an existing legal action including:
- any action concerning the custody or visitation rights of their minor grandchild, including a divorce action between the child's parents
- an action for termination of either parent's parental rights, and
- an action for adoption of the child by a step-parent or blood relative.
What is the standard for granting or denying a grandparent's visitation request?
The court will award a grandparent reasonable visitation if it finds:
- the child's health or welfare would be harmed if the request for visitation was denied, and
- the visitation is in the child's best interests.
In deciding whether the child will be harmed by denying visitation, courts must consider the following factors:
- whether the minor child resided with the grandparent for at least six months
- whether the grandparent provided financial support for the child's basic needs for at least one year
- whether there was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care provided by the grandparent, and
- any other circumstances that indicate emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely if visitation was denied.
If any of these factors are present, a judge may decide it's reasonably likely the child will suffer emotional harm from a failure to provide grandparent contact.
Once visitation rights are granted, can they be taken away?
Georgia law gives the child's parent or legal guardian the right to ask the court to revoke or amend a grandparent's visitation. The parent must show good cause for the change. A parent may make this request only once every two years. Although courts do give some deference (respect) to a parent's wishes and judgment regarding whether grandparent visitation is in the child's best interests, the parent's judgment is not conclusive; in other words, parents don't have the final say in the matter.
How does the court process work for grandparent visitation?
After a grandparent files a petition (legal paperwork) for visitation rights, the court may appoint a "guardian ad litem" (independent advocate and spokesperson) for the child and send the parties to mediation if the court finds that the grandparent can bear the cost. Often, parties who are sent to mediation can come up with their own visitation arrangements. If not, or if no mediation is held, the court will hold a hearing to decide the visitation request.
Can I seek custody of my grandchild?
Yes, but it can be very hard to win. In a custody proceeding between the parents and a grandparent, the court will determine custody based on the best interests of the child standard. The court will begin with a presumption that parental custody is in the child's best interests, but a grandparent can rebut this presumption with evidence that awarding custody to the grandparent would be in the child's best interests and would best promote the child's welfare and happiness.
If you have questions about bringing an action (or intervening in one) for visitation with your grandchild, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney in your area.
For the complete text of the law governing grandparent visitation actions in Georgia, see Ga. Code Ann., § 19-7-3