I have heard of more than one account of a grandparent caring for a child as if it were their own. Then one day, the parent decides that the child will return to said parent and the grandparent is left with nothing. What does the grandparent do in this situation? The answer is, as I heard so often in law school, “it depends.”
Generally, a grandparent may seek visitation rights in some scenarios. A grandparent may seek visitation or to intervene in and seek visitation rights in any case concerning (1) custody, (2) a divorce of the parents or a parent of the child, (3) a termination of parental rights of either parent, or (4) where there has been an adoption by the child’s blood relatives or by a stepparent Ga. Divorce, Alimony, & Child Custody § 27:7.
In most situations in which a grandparent is seeking visitation rights, the court looks for clear and convincing evidence that the child will be harmed unless said visitation is granted. This is looked at in the best interest of the child standard. Such factors that the court will consider are, whether the child has spent significant time residing with the grandparents, the financial support that the grandparents have provided, and any further evidence which would support a showing of a significant attachment between the minor child and the grandparents. This is of course only in the case of one of the aforementioned scenarios.
If both parents are married, living together, and the child is living with them, the grandparent’s rights become much more limited but not lost. The state of Georgia, while giving considerable weight to the parent’s decision and while it is public policy to further a parent’s right to raise their children, will give visitation rights to grandparent’s if it will harm the child emotionally.
Of course, the other route that may be taken is some scenarios is for the grandparent to seek full custody of the child and to terminate the rights of the parents, if the grandparent can show that the parents are “unfit” to raise the child. This is a high burden but may be the proper way to proceed in some situations.
In conclusion, it is important to know your rights as a grandparent so that you can enforce them if necessary. I know many grandparents who feel as if their grandchildren are their own children and could be crushed emotionally if that changed or have been emotionally harmed in the past by similar instances. So I advise you to speak with an attorney if you have a similar story.