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Georgia law recognizes that it is extremely important for children to not only have a relationship with both parents, but to maintain a healthy relationship with their grandparents as well. See O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3 (c)(3). Due to this recognition, Georgia law allows grandparents to seek and establish a legally enforceable visitation arrangement with their grandchild or grandchildren in certain circumstances. According to O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3, a grandparent may either file an original action for visitation or intervene in an ongoing action that determines the custody of their grandchild (such as an adoption, divorce, or modification action) and ask the Court to grant him or her the right to reasonable visitation with their grandchild. Specifically, the relevant section of the Georgia Code states the following:
“…any grandparent shall have the right to file an original action for visitation rights to a minor child or to intervene in and seek to obtain visitation rights in any action in which any court in this state shall have before it any question concerning the custody of a minor child, a divorce of the parents or a parent of such minor child, a termination of the parental rights of either parent of such minor child, or visitation rights concerning such minor child or whenever there has been an adoption in which the adopted child has been adopted by the child's blood relative or by a stepparent, notwithstanding the provisions of Code Section 19-8-19.”
O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3 (b)(1). However, it is important to note that this statute does not allow grandparents to intervene and seek visitation as outlined above if the parents of the child are not separated and the child is still living with both parents. O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(b)(2).
When determining whether to grant a grandparent visitation, the Court assesses the best interest of the child and, if it finds that the “health or welfare” of the child would be damaged if the child is not afforded visitation with the grandparent, then the Court will grant visitation rights. Specifically, the relevant portion of the above cited code section states:
“Upon the filing of an original action or upon intervention in an existing proceeding under subsection (b) of this Code section, the court may grant any grandparent of the child reasonable visitation rights if the court finds the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless such visitation is granted and if the best interests of the child would be served by such visitation. In considering whether the health or welfare of the child would be harmed without such visitation, the court shall consider and may find that harm to the child is reasonably likely to result where, prior to the original action or intervention:
(A) The minor child resided with the grandparent for six months or more;
(B) The grandparent provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year;
(C) There was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the grandparent with the child; or
(D) Any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.”
O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3 (c)(2).