Recent changes to O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3 have expanded visitation and intervention rights in domestic relations cases concerning minor children to include siblings of parents as well as great-grandparents. Under the previous version of O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3, only grandparents were allowed to file for visitation rights, as well as joint custody of minor children if certain conditions were met.
The new law still requires that the following circumstances be met for such family members to file for visitation or custody:
- Parents of the minor child are divorced or separated, parental custody has been terminated, or the minor child has been adopted by a stepparent or blood relative
- The court finds that the welfare or health of the child would be harmed if visitation or custody is not granted
The court will make their decision as to whether or not the health or welfare of the child would be reasonably affected in an adverse way if any of the following scenarios apply:
- The minor child resided with the family member for six months or more
- The family member provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year
- There was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the family member with the minor child; or
- Any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would 54 be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.
New changes to the law state now explicitly state that the absence of the opportunity for a child to build a relationship with a family member will not be considered as harming the health or welfare of the child when there is no substantial preexisting relationship between the child and the family member.
While a parent’s decision regarding family member visitation will be given deference by the court, the court will ultimately act in the best interest of the child. In the event that more than one family member requests visitation rights with a child, the court will determine the amount of time each family member is allotted, and will determine which family member is given priority.
Even if visitation is not awarded, in some cases, the court may instruct the custodial parent of the child to notify family members of performances of the minor child to which the public is admitted, including, but not limited to, musical concerts, graduations, recitals, and sporting events or games.
HB 229 is a positive change for family members that have had a significant impact on the life of a child they care about, but previously had no legal rights to. Far too frequently, changes in family situations lead to children being taken away from relatives that have a vested interest in their well being and their future. This new law is more in line with society’s expanding modern definition of family and will create additional opportunities for children to receive necessary care and support.
If you’re a family member involved in the life of a minor child and looking to gain visitation rights or custody, our attorneys are extremely experienced with the intricacies of Georgia family law. We’ll make sure that your best interests as well as the child you care about are put first. Contact us today at 770.822.0900 to determine if this new statute applies to you.
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