It is common for grandparents to consult with an attorney about their custody rights in Georgia as related to their grand children. When determining custody of a child, Georgia courts will always use the “best interests of the child” standard. There is a presumption that the best interest of the child is to be in the care of at least one of the biological parents. This means that it can be difficult for grandparents to obtain custody over a biological parent. However, it is possible when the facts in the case support the applicable law in Georgia.
In determining what is truly in the best interest of the child, the courts will consider several factors:
- physical health of the child
- emotional health of the child
- safety and welfare of the child
- the child’s wishes
- the relationship of the child with the proposed caregiver(s)
If a grandparent wishes to seek custody of his or her grandchild, the easiest way to do this is to obtain consent from the parents. Other situations that may result in a child being removed from the care of the biological parents include when the parents cannot be located or when the child is being deprived of basic care. Deprivation may exist when there is evidence of: physical abuse, emotional abuse, no parental supervision, or truancy. In cases of deprivation, there are several courses of action. A grandparent may notify the Department of Family of Children Services if they suspect abuse but this may result in the child being sent to foster care. A Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) proceeding may take a very long time. If the grandparent can afford to hire an attorney to bring a deprivation suit, this is a quicker process through which the grandparent can seek custody. The definition of “deprivation” is codified in O.C.G.A. § 15-11-2(8).
Sometimes grandparents may simply take grandchildren to live them without a formal court proceeding. This can result in all kinds of legal issues later. Without a legal ruling in place, the children cannot be enrolled in school and cannot be added to a healthcare policy. This is type of arrangement in the best interest of the children and will not be regarded favorably by the courts.
Courts can take alternative actions to granting custody to the grandparents. Courts may appoint the grandparents as guardians, award temporary custody, or even grant power of attorney. Any of these outcomes will give the grandparents decision-making power for the children.
It is imperative that anyone caring for children that are not the caregiver’s biological children, have a court order that awards the legal power of decision-making to the caregiver. This is for the well-being and best interest of the children. Hiring an attorney to guide you through this process is the fastest and least stressful method of dealing with this difficult situation.