Grandparent visitation is an issue that is addressed often by the appellate courts in Georgia. Recently, the Court of Appeals heard a case where the trial court failed to address a grandparent’s request for visitation despite the fact that the request was proper under Georgia law. Sheppard v. McCraney et al., A12A0933 (2012). In Sheppard v. McCraney, the paternal grandparents had temporary guardianship of the minor child due to the parents’ drug abuse problems. After being denied visitation with the child, the maternal grandfather filed a petition seeking custody of the child and, in the alternative, grandparent visitation with the child. At the hearing, the maternal grandfather decided to abandon his request for custody and pursue his request for grandparent visitation. Id. The mother and paternal grandparents objected to the request for grandparent visitation. After the hearing, the trial court’s order dismissed the custody request, but failed to address the visitation request. Id. The maternal grandfather appealed, claiming that the trial court erred in failing to make specific findings of fact in deciding the visitation issue.
In Georgia, a grandparent can file an original action for visitation when the parents are separated and the child is not living with both of the parents. OCGA §19-7-3(b). Further, “[u]pon the [grandparent’s] filing of an original action…the court may grant any grandparent of the child reasonable 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. The court shall make specific written findings of fact in support of its rulings.” OCGA §19-7-3(c).
In the case, the maternal grandfather met all the requirements for filing an original action for grandparent visitation. Thus, according to the Georgia Court of Appeals, the trial court “was required to apply OCGA §19-7-3(c) and determine whether [the maternal grandfather] had presented clear and convincing evidence that the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless visitation was granted, and whether the child’s best interests would be served by allowing such visitation.” Sheppard v. McCraney et al., A12A0933 (2012). The trial court failed to do so and, therefore, the Court remanded the case back to the trial court for an entry of an order on the visitation issue, with specific findings of fact as required by the statute.