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Grandparents' visitation rights: a national scheme with variances

In many families across the United States, including in Georgia, grandparents play a central and loving role in the lives of their grandchildren.

It is thus far from surprising that, when things break down in a family, the grandparents often step forward to claim a right to maintain a close and meaningful relationship with their grandkids.

Do they have such a right?

As noted by the national legal resource company FindLaw, grandparent visitation rights have long been recognized in every state, the accepted rationale being that children's best interests are typically promoted by maintaining the special bonds afforded by this unique relationship.

Recognition of visitation rights does not automatically equate, however, to liberal grants that guarantee grandparents' close and continued proximity to their children's kids.

Indeed, a number of judicial rules and processes among the various states govern grandparent visitation, and many of them serve to carefully qualify the prerogative, even limiting it materially in some instances to ensure the legal rights of parents.

The first order of business for family courts considering visitation -- or, in more extreme instances, custody -- petitions from grandparents is invariably consideration of the parents. Are they alive? If so, are they living together? Has a divorce action been filed? Are there allegations of child neglect or other abuse? Do the parents even want the grandparents to be involved in the lives of their children?

Such questions will centrally occupy a court, with there being a general judicial presumption in favor of the parents.

In other words: A judge will often assume that, absent parental separation or any claim that grandchildren are being harmed, the ultimate call regarding grandparent involvement with the grandkids is with the children's parents.

Again, every state has local laws that weigh in on the subject. We will take a look at Georgia's statutory scheme in our next blog post.

Source: FindLaw, "Requirements for awarding grandparent visitation and custody," author uncited, accessed Aug. 25, 2014

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