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Child custody, grandparents and the bests interests standard

The best interests of the child, as readers may know, is an important consideration in custody determinations. In fact, it is a central consideration. But, as s recent Georgia case illustrates, there are limits on the application of the best interest standard.

The case involves a decision delivered by the Georgia Supreme Court in which a grandmother who had been her grandson’s primary caregiver was denied a request for joint custody with her former son-in-law. That decision was made after the father was deemed the only parent fit to have custody, while the grandmother was granted visitation rights and the right to be consulted in matters regarding the child’s health and education. The arrangement is known as joint legal custody.  

The grandmother’s right to joint legal custody in the case was granted due to the fact that the grandmother had served as the primary caretaker of the child for significant periods of time while the child’s mother was receiving treatment for drug addiction and the father was out of state for work. On appeal, however, that arrangement was struck down on the grounds that state law does not envision granting custody rights to a grandparent over the objections of a fit parent.

What this case highlights is that, even when removing a child from the care of a grandparent would have a detrimental effect on the child, the grandparent remains the grandparent, and so has limited rights with respect to the child. In other words, even when joint custody with a grandparent is in the best interests of the child, state law does not provide for this possibility when a fit parent objects to it.

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