Grandparent visitation rights of biological grandparents evaporate when the parental rights of the grandparent’s child are terminated and the grandchild is adopted by a stepparent.

Grandparent visitation rights 2012 Georgia case.

A 2012 decision by the Georgia Supreme Court in the case of Kunz v. Bailey, 290 Ga. 361 (Jan. 9, 2012) denied the paternal grandparents the right to file for grandparent visitation rights.    The grandchild had been adopted by the stepparent and the biological father’s parental rights terminated as part of the adoption.  Even though the biological grandparents continued to have a relationship with their biological grandchild for a time, at some point the parents (mother and adoptive father) cut off the biological grandparents’ access to the child.  When the biological grandparents filed for grandparent visitation rights, the trial judge allowed the action to go forward, but the mother and adoptive father appealed and won at the Georgia Court of Appeals and again at the Georgia Supreme Court.

Grandparent visitation rights Georgia statute.

The Georgia statute governing grandparent visitation rights is OCGA 19-7-3.  Generally, grandparents may file an original action (separate case) seeking grandparent visitation rights, but there is an exception if the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both parents.   In the Kunz case, the appeals court interpreted this statutory exception to include a stepparent who has legally adopted the child – the grandchild was living with her mother and her adoptive father (formerly her stepfather), so a grandparent cannot file an original action.  Further, the court said, when the grandchild’s stepfather legally adopted the child, the child in legal terms became a “stranger” to her biological father and his relatives.

Grandparents may intervene in ongoing cases seeking grandparent visitation rights.

Under the Georgia grandparent visitation rights statute, grandparents also have the right to intervene in and seek visitation rights in any ongoing court action concerning custody of the grandchild, divorce of the parents or a parent of the grandchild, an action for termination of the parental rights of either parent of the grandchild, or an action concerning visitation rights when the grandchild has been adopted by a blood relative or a stepparent.

Grandparent visitation rights depend on best interests of the child.

Whether the grandparents successfully intervene or file a new action, the court may grant any grandparent reasonable grandparent 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.”  OCGA 19-7-3(c)(1).  The statute includes some specific examples of circumstances where a court might find that harm to the child is likely.

Beware pitfalls of timing.

If grandparent visitation rights are granted, the law states that visitation will be at least 24 hours a month.  But there are limitations on how frequently and when grandparents and parents can go to court over the issue of grandparent visitation rights, so it is important to seek legal advice promptly if you have a dispute brewing over grandparents’ access to grandchildren.  Contact Hindson & Melton LLC to discuss your specific facts and concerns.
Karen S. Hindson – July 23, 2012