In recent years, the issue of Grandparent’s rights to visitation in divorce has come to the forefront. Sadly, what will often happen in divorce are the parents of the non-custodial parent end up cut off from their grandchildren. This may be especially true if the grandparents and grandchildren live a far distance from each other.
Grandparent’s rights have become a controversial issue. On the one hand why should grandchildren be denied time with a grandparent because their parents no longer live together or are getting a divorce? Conversely, at what point does the intervention of the courts infringe upon a person’s civil liberties?
People going through a divorce often feel that they have little or no control over their lives anymore. It seems the court system takes over their life, telling them how to live, where to live, how much money to live on and on.
Exactly what is visitation? To put it into its simplest form, visitation is when the court sets a specific schedule for a person to have access to the child. In other words in the case of grandparent’s visitation the court will order that the children be made available to the grandparent on specific day for a specified amount of time.
Unfortunately, just because a grandparent is being denied access to their grandchild does not necessarily mean they will qualify for court ordered visitation. Grandparent visitation is governed by statute and case law, and each state has their own laws.
During a divorce, communications between all the parties often breaks down. Every effort within reason should be made to have time with the grandchild before court papers are filed. Mediation is one option available before filing papers. Filing in the courts for visitation should be the last resort.
The requirements for court ordered visitation vary by state. In most, but not all states, if the grandchild’s parents are still married the grandparents are not entitled to visitation. Depending upon the state, the following situations may give rise to grandparent visitation:
- Pending divorce
- Parents already divorced
- Parent deceased
- Child born out of wedlock
As you can see, this is a complicated issue. If you are a grandparent that is being denied time, without good reason, you have a big decision to make. Once the decision to pursue visitation the next step is to find a professional that specializes in third party custody and visitation.
Do grandparents have any rights of custody or visitation with their grandchildren in Georgia?
Yes, grandparents and third parties (aunts, uncles, other relatives and sometimes even non-relatives) do have rights in Georgia to seek custody or visitation with their grand children (or with the children of others for a “third party”), but there is a very strong preference for natural parents to have custody of their own children.
My grandson has lived with me for the past three years. His parents (my son and his wife) have had little or no contact with him during that time, but now, they want my grandson to live with them. Is there anything that I can do to ensure that my grandson will continue to live with me?
In a custody proceeding between the parents and a grandparent, the court will determine custody based on the best interest of the child standard. This standard requires the grandparent to show that (1) parental custody would harm the child; and (2) granting custody to the grandparent will promote the child’s health, welfare and happiness. A grandparent has a more difficult legal standard to meet than does a parent when seeking custody of a child.
My grandchildren have lived with me for the past three years. Their parents (my son and his wife) have had little or no contact with the children during that time, and now, they want the children to live with them. What can I do to ensure that I will be able to spend time with my grandchildren once they are living with their parents?
Georgia law allows grandparents to seek visitation rights with their grandchildren in any case involving custody of the grandchildren, including a divorce between a child’s parents. In such cases, the court may grant visitation rights to the grandparent if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the health and/or welfare of the children would be harmed unless the visitation was granted and (2) granting the visitation would be in the best interest of the children.
What does "reasonable visitation" mean?
When a court determines the visitation rights of a noncustodial parent, it usually orders "reasonable" visitation, leaving it to the parents to work out a precise schedule of time and place. This allows the parents to exercise flexibility by taking into consideration both the parents’ and the children’s schedules. Practically speaking, however, the parent with physical custody has more control over the dates, times, and duration of visits. He or she isn’t legally obligated to agree to any particular schedule, but judges do take note of who is and who is not flexible. If you are uncooperative merely to vex your ex, it can backfire when you need to ask the court for something in the future.
Parents have to cooperate and communicate frequently, for the reasonable visitation approach to succeed. If you suspect right off the bat that reasonable visitation won’t work, insist on a fixed schedule and save yourself time, angst, and possibly money. If you’ve already agreed to reasonable visitation and it isn’t working out — for example, one parent is consistently late, skips scheduled visits, or doesn’t inform the other parent where he or she is planning on taking the children — you can go back to court and ask that the arrangement be changed.
Grandparents, stepparents, and other caretakers often form deep and loving attachments with the children in their lives. Yet when death, divorce, or estrangement tears families apart, these caretakers may find themselves without any legal right to maintain contact with the children they love.
Child Visitation Laws
All 50 states currently have some type of "grandparent visitation" statute through which grandparents and sometimes others (foster parents and stepparents, for example) can ask a court to grant them the legal right to maintain their relationships with loved children. But state laws vary greatly when it comes to the crucial details, such as who can visit and under what circumstances.
Approximately 20 states have "restrictive" visitation statutes, meaning that generally only grandparents can get a court order for visitation — and only if the child’s parents are divorcing or if one or both parents have died. However, most states have more permissive visitation laws that allow courts to consider a visitation request even without the death of a parent or the dissolution of the family, so long as visitation would serve the best interests of the child. Some states allow caretaking adults besides grandparents to make such a petition.
Both restrictive and permissive visitation statutes have been challenged in court by parents who argue that the laws are an infringement on parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit. Courts have made contradictory rulings.