With the decline of the traditional stay-at-home mother, grandparents often help out more and more to raise their grandchildren. Because of a need for a daycare provider, financial pressures, parental drug abuse, or even the death of a parent, grandparents may heavily involve themselves in their grandchildren’s lives either through regular visitation or even full custody. However, when conflicts arise over visitation and custody, grandparents are often at a disadvantage in the eyes of a court. An experienced attorney can help you if you’re a grandparent who wants the best for your grandchildren.
Grandparent visitation issues may arise for a variety of reasons such as:
- A parent denying visitation after a grandparent fights with their child.
- A parent denying visitation after returning from a long period of absence during which the grandparents may have taken on roles as guardians or custodians of the child.
- Situations when the parent dies or goes to jail and an in-law denies visitation to grandparents.
If you are a grandparent in one of these situations, what are your rights? Grandparents do have some rights to visitation but recent changes in Georgia law makes receiving legal visitation rights even harder. First, to get visitation rights, your grandchildren’s parents must have a “severed relationship” (meaning separated or divorced). You will be unable to get legal visitation rights if the parents are still married. Second, the court ultimately cares about the “best interest of the child” and will look at your situation from your grandchildren’s point of view. You’re more likely to get visitation rights if you have a strong bond or connection between you and your grandchildren and if it would be detrimental or damaging for the child if they didn’t regularly see you. In rare cases, it may even be harmful to the grandchildren if you don’t visit them.
Some examples include:
- Your grandchildren spent every single summer with you and now the parent says the child can’t see you.
- You saw your grandchildren every day and they now show negative responses to your absence (such as bedwetting or problems in school).
- Your grandchildren express visible signs of being upset and need a counselor because of your absence.
So how do you figure out if you have legal visitation rights to see your grandchildren? Here are some of the visitation questions we’ll ask you about:
- How much contact have you had with your grandchildren?
- How recent was that contact?
- How old are your grandchildren?
- What are your grandchildren’s wishes?
- What is the nature of your bond, relationship, or contact? And how strong?
- Is there any evidence of harm to your grandchildren from lack of contact?
Grandparent custody is the same thing as third party custody—a common form of custody in which someone other than the biological parents have custody of the child. Third party custody usually occurs when the child is clearly in a harmful situation such as living in an environment of abuse or neglect.
To obtain custody as a grandparent, you must show a clear reason such as:
- The child has an unfit parent who is not caring. “Unfit” must mean major issues such as drugs, crime, or neglect.
- The parent has given up his or her role as a parent.
- A very strong bond or connection exists between you and the child.
- The child would be physically, medically, or emotionally harmed if returned to the parent.
- There is evidence of physical and psychological harm to the children from the parent.
After finding that the child would be harmed if the child was returned to the parents, the Court must determine that it is in the best interest of the child to be placed in the custody of grandparents.
A Caution to Parents
Parents also need to understand these laws and situations before turning over a child to relatives such as grandparents, even for something like an overseas military assignment. Remember:
- You may have had children young or gone through a crisis during which you gave up your parental authority to a grandparent. If you want your authority back, the legal process may be difficult.
- Who does the child feel is a parent? Your children will have a huge say during any legal process, especially if they are older.
- If you give guardianship or custody to a grandparent, there is a possibility you may not get it back. Be careful before agreeing to give guardianship or custody to a grandparent or any other third party.
How Can We Help You?
Grandparents’ rights cases are very complicated and include many gray areas. To get the rights you deserve and avoid making mistakes throughout the process, we recommend that you come see us. Our experienced attorneys will help you understand your options for successfully getting grandparent visitation or custody rights. Give us a call at 678-971-3413 or schedule a consultation.