While not as common as cases involving parental rights, we do see quite a few grandparent's rights cases that involve visitation and (less commonly) custody. If you're a grandparent, you might wonder when you have the right to claim legal visitation and custody—and you might not even know that you had these rights.
Know that grandparent's rights are established by Georgia law but you've often got an uphill battle to climb. Courts are heavily biased toward parents, and parents tend to win most claims concerning visitation and custody. However, once you as a grandparent win visitation or custody, it's incredibly difficult for that decision to change or for a parent to win back custody.
Before considering making a claim for visitation or custody, here are a few key points about grandparent's rights in Georgia that you should know.
You can claim grandparent visitation or custody rights if the parents are divorced, separated, and even married.
Visitation rights come in if the court finds it would be harmful to the child not to see his/her grandparents. This can be true even if the parents are excellent. Custody rights for the grandparents come in if problems at the parent's house can be easily fixed by the child living with the grandparents.
The courts will look at both potential harm to the child and the child's best interests when considering grandparent visitation or custody.
Harm doesn't only mean situations where the child lives in an abusive environment. It also means a variety of scenarios that lead to subtler forms of harm such as financial or emotional neglect. You're more likely to win grandparent visitation or custody rights when considering:
Existing residence—meaning the child is used to living with the grandparent (for at least six months).
Financial support for "basic needs" provided by the grandparent for at least a year.
Regular visitation or care that the child has come to expect.
Any other reason that harm would result such as proof that bedwetting or problems in school stem from a grandparent's absence.
A strong bond or connection with your grandchild matters a lot.
Grandchildren often have a lot of say concerning visitation and custody, and so evidence of your bond or connection with them will help you. Even if parents fight to prevent visitation or custody, courts can still award you generous visitation rights or at least make sure the parents are required to let you know about all public events where your grandchildren will appear (such as graduations or sporting events). If you lack this kind of bond, it's much harder to win visitation or custody rights.
You can join an existing visitation or custody case.
The easiest way to assert your grandparents' rights is to join with an existing case. That way, your claims can be added to the claims of a parent who is already trying to define what visitation or custody will look like after a divorce. Otherwise, you can only file an "original action" every two years, and going solo to win visitation or custody as a grandparent is much harder.
Once granted, grandparent's rights are hard to take away.
Once you have visitation or custody rights, it's very difficult for a parent to take them away. In fact, we even warn parents about this situation when they decide to grant custody or guardianship to a grandparent as a result of a crisis or long military absence. At this point, trying to take custody back is extremely difficult because the child's best interests now more intricately involve their life with you as a grandparent.
Read more about grandparent's rights in Georgia.