Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights in Georgia?

When parents divorce, separate, or pass away, what rights do grandparents have to visitation with the child?

In many families, grandparents may play as large of a role in raising their grandchildren as the parents do. If a parent passes away, abandons the children, or the parents divorce, grandparents may feel unsure about their rights to visit with their grandchildren.

This article will explain the visitation rights of grandparents in Georgia. If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation in Georgia after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney.

When Can Grandparents Ask for Visitation?

Georgia law defines a grandparent as a parent of a minor child's parent, regardless of whether the child's parent has died or whether a court has terminated the child's parent's custodial rights.

If a minor child's parents are not separated, and the child lives with both parents, the grandparents cannot file a petition for visitation rights. Grandparents can request visitation rights only when the child's parents are separated, or when the court believes the child's health or welfare would be harmed without grandparent visitation, as long as the visitation is in the child's best interests.

Judges will find that a child may be harmed by not having grandparent visitation when any of the following factors are present:

  • the child lived with the grandparent for six months or more
  • the grandparent financially supported the child for a year or more
  • the grandparent regularly provided childcare or visited with the child, and
  • any other circumstances that show the child would be emotionally or physically harmed from lack of grandparent visitation.

Grandparents can only request visitation once every two years. Also, they can't request visitation during a year when any other custody action is pending for the child. For example, if the child's parents divorce and are determining custody during a certain year, the grandparents can't request visitation in the same year, unless they file a petition to intervene in the existing custody case.

Once a grandparent has been granted visitation rights, any other person with custody rights, such as the parents or other legal guardian, can ask the court to modify the visitation. However, no person can request modification of grandparent visitation more than once every two years.

If the child in question is adopted, grandparents' visitation rights with the child terminate, unless a blood relative has adopted the minor child. If a stepparent adopts the child, the parents of the parent whose parental rights have ended also lose their right to visitation. For example, if a mother remarries, and her new husband adopts her children while the biological father's parental rights are terminated, the paternal grandparents can no longer request visitation with the child.

How Do Courts Determine Whether to Grant Grandparents Visitation?

Judges in Georgia give some deference to the parents' wishes when determining whether to grant grandparent visitation. Still, the parent's preference won't be the only deciding factor—courts look primarily to whether the child would be harmed without the grandparents having visitation rights.

Courts won't allow grandparent visitation to interfere with the child's schooling. Also, grandparent visitation, if granted, will be a minimum of 24 hours per month, and can be significantly more, depending on the circumstances.

If one parent dies, is incapacitated, or incarcerated, a judge can grant the parent of the unavailable parent visitation with the child in place of the parent. Courts must still determine whether it's in the best interest of the child to grant the visitation. When parents and grandparents disagree on visitation, the judge can order all parties to attend mediation to try to come to an agreement.

When determining whether grandparent visitation is appropriate, courts may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's interests in the court case. The guardian may interview both parents, visit with the child's teachers, coaches, doctors, and other individuals who interact with the child, and take any other actions necessary to determine what visitation schedule is in the child's best interests.

Even when a court denies grandparent visitation, the court can still order the parents to notify the grandparents of the child's school enrollment and the child's participation in sports, music or dance performances, graduations, or other events that are open to the public.

When Can Grandparents Win Custody of a Grandchild?

A grandparent may adopt a grandchild legally, if the living parents have voluntarily surrendered parental rights of the child in writing. A notary public must sign the parent's written surrender of parental rights. If the child is over the age of 14, the child must also consent to the adoption in writing and confirm it before a judge. If one grandparent (or a set of grandparents) adopts a child, any other grandparents can request visitation from the court.

If both biological parents are deceased, the grandparents may request custody of the grandchildren, or in the alternative, may grant the grandparents visitation if the child is adopted by another person.

If you have additional questions about grandparent visitation rights, contact a Georgia family law attorney.

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