Many grandparents play important roles in their grandchildren's lives—sometimes even helping to raise them. It's often such a special relationship that the idea of a grandparent needing permission to spend time with a grandchild is almost unthinkable. But if a parent objects to grandparent visitation, a judge might have to resolve the dispute. Georgia law—as well as the circumstances of each case—will determine how that plays out.
Unless a child is still living with both parents (who aren't separated), Georgia law allows certain family members to request visitation with the child over the parents' objection. The law applies to the child's:
Grandparents are the highest rung on the ladder, because Georgia law explicitly says that it's state policy to encourage a child's continuing contact with grandparents who have shown the ability to act in the child's best interests. So grandparents may request visitation even if there isn't another active court case involving the family. These "original actions" for grandparent visitation have only two other limitations (other than the basic threshold requirement that the child isn't living with both parents). Grandparents may not file these requests:
There are stricter limits on visitation requests by great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles. These relatives may file a request only as part of another active court case concerning the child, such as:
Grandparents may also "intervene" in any of these existing cases to request visitation. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3 (2023).)
In order to start an original action to request visitation with a grandchild, you'll need to file a "complaint" (petition) with the county superior court. You'll also have to deliver a copy of the complaint (through legal "service of process") to the child's parents or legal guardian.
If there's already a case in progress (as mentioned above), you may intervene in that case rather than starting a new one. In this situation, it would be a good idea to consult with a Georgia family law attorney who's familiar with the proper procedure for intervening in an existing case.
Whether the request is an original action or part of another case, a judge may order grandparent visitation only if there's "clear and convincing" evidence that:
(Ga. Code § 19-7-3(c)(1), (d)(1) (2023).)
When judges are deciding whether denying the grandparent visitation would harm the child emotionally or physically, they must consider any circumstances that would point to a reasonable likelihood of that result, including any of the following:
If the child hasn't had a substantial pre-existing relationship with the grandparent, the judge may not conclude that the child would be harmed just because there wouldn't be an opportunity to develop such a relationship in the future.
The same standards apply when one of the child's parents is deceased, incapacitated, or incarcerated, and that parent's parent requests grandparent visitation. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3(c)(1), (d)(1) (2023).)
Judges will usually defer to a decisions by a custodial parent whether to allow visitation by grandparents or other family members. But that doesn't mean judges will always go along with those decisions if denying the visitation would harm the child emotionally.
In fact, Georgia law presumes that a child may experience emotional injury if denied even minimal contact with a grandparent (or another qualfied family member) who has had a pre-existing relationship with the child. That presumption is "rebuttable," meaning that a parent may overcome it with enough evidence that the child wouldn't be harmed by the lack of visitation. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3(c)(3), (d)(2) (2023).)
When a grandparent (or other qualified family member) has requested visitation, the judge may appoint a guardian ad litem for the child and refer the dispute to mediation—and order the grandparent to pay the costs, as long as it wouldn't post an unreasonable financial hardship. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3(e) (2023).)
When a judge does order grandparent visitation, it must be for at least 24 hours per month. However, if the judge also orders visitation rights to another family member, the 24-hour minimum applies to the total hours of visitation by all nonparents. For example, a judge may award a grandparent as little 18 hours of visitation per month while awarding six monthly hours of visitation to the child's aunt.
However, any court-ordered visitation with grandparents or other relatives may not interfere with the child's school or regularly scheduled extracurricular activities. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3(c)(5) (2023).)
After a judge has awarded a grandparent visitation rights, the child's parent or legal guardian may ask the judge to change or even revoke those rights. The parent must have a good reason for the request and may not ask for a change more than once every two years. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3(c)(2) (2023).)
A grandparent may also request a modification of an existing visitation order, but only by:
(Pate v. Sadlock, 814 S.E.2d 760 (Ga. Ct. App. 2018).)
Ordinarily, a child's adoption terminates a grandparent's existing visitation rights. But that rule won't apply when the child is adopted by a stepparent. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3(b)(1)(B) (2023); Lightfoot v. Hollins, 308 Ga. App. 538 (Ga. Ct. App. 2011).)
Even if a judge denies a grandparent's visitation request, all may not be lost. Georgia law allows a judge to order a parent or guardian to notify the grandparent (or other family member) every time the child is in a performance where the public is admitted, including:
In theory, at least, the grandparents could then attend these events, see their grandkids (albeit from afar), and hope that the kids are aware of their presence and love. (Ga. Code § 19-7-3(g) (2023).)
As a general rule, it's not easy for a grandparent or any third party to win custody of a child. When a parent loses parental rights, it's usually because of conduct that jeopardizes the child's safety or health. (A parent can also lose parental rights by voluntarily surrendering those rights, or consenting to the child's adoption.)
Under Georgia law, however, a parent's misconduct isn't a direct factor in a judge's decision to award custody to any of the following family members:
When it comes to a custody dispute between a parent and any of these other relatives, the judge may award the nonparent custody if—after considering all of the circumstances—the judge believes that would be in the child's best interests and would best promote the child's welfare and happiness.
Although there's a rebuttable presumption that parents should keep custody, the presumption may be overcome with proof that awarding custody to another family member is in the child's best interest. (Ga. Code § 19-7-1(b.1) (2023).)
It's not as difficult in Georgia as it is in many other states for grandparents to get visitation rights over a parent's objections. But it's certainly not guaranteed, and it could involve an expensive court battle. That's why it's in everyone's best interest if you and the child's parents can resolve your disagreements without court intervention, either on your own or with the help of mediation. But if you can't work out your differences, you should definitely consider consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can evaluate your situation and tell you whether you have a fighting chance of getting court-ordered visitation.