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Legal Information: Georgia


September 29, 2016

Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

Possibly, yes. The judge must take into consideration any evidence of family violence when making a custody decision.  When evidence of family violence is found, the judge will also take into consideration the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence – this should be one of the judge’s main concerns.  The judge should also consider the abuser’s history of violence or of causing reasonable fear of violence to another person.*  However, there are many other factors that s/he will consider as well - see How will a judge make a decision about custody?  Therefore, the fact that a parent committed family violence does not necessarily mean that s/he will be denied custody.

Visitation or parenting time may be awarded to a parent who committed violence only if the judge believes that proper measures can be taken to ensure the safety of you and your child.  Here are some things the judge could include in the visitation order:

  • that the transfer of your child (from one parent to another) take place in a protected setting;
  • supervised visitation by another person or agency (the abuser may be ordered to cover the cost of this);
  • that the abuser has to attend and complete a certified family violence intervention program;
  • that the abuser cannot drink or do drugs during the visitation and for twenty-four hours before the visitation;
  • that overnight visitation is not allowed;
  • that the abuser post a bond (money) for the return and safety of the child; and
  • require any other condition that is considered necessary to provide for the safety of the child, the victim of violence, and any other household member.**

Whether or not visitation or parenting time is allowed, the judge may order the address of the child and the victim of family violence to be kept confidential.***

Note: A judge will not order you to attend joint counseling with the abuser as a condition of receiving custody, visitation, or parenting time.****

It is recommended that you seek legal advice from a lawyer to assist you in a custody case involving domestic violence issues.  For information on how to find a lawyer, see our GA Finding a Lawyer page.

* O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(4)
** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(a)
*** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(b)
**** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(c)

I am the child's family member (grandparent or sibling). Can I get visitation?

Possibly.  The law allows for a grandparent, great-grandparent or sibling (known in the law as a "family member") to file for visitation in certain circumstances.

First, any grandparent can file an original petition for visitation rights only if the child's parents are separated. If the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both parents, a grandparent cannot start his/her own case for visitation.*  A grandparent cannot file an original petition more than once in any two-year period and cannot file in any year in which another custody action has been filed concerning the child.*1  (However, there may be an exception to this if one of the child's parents dies, is incapacitated, or is incarcerated.)*2  If a parent wants to file to modify or dismiss the grandparent's visitation rights, such a petition also cannot be filed more than once in any two-year period.*1

Second, any grandparent, great-grandparent or sibling can file to intervene in any case that is already in court involving:

  • the issue of custody or visitation rights of the child in question;
  • divorce of the parents or of a parent of the child;
  • termination of the parental rights of either parent of the child; or
  • an adoption in which the child has been adopted by the child's blood relative or by a step-parent.*3

The judge can grant visitation rights to a family member (grandparent, great-grandparent, or sibling) if there is "clear and convincing evidence" that the visitation is in the child's best interests and that the health/welfare of the child would be harmed if the visitation is denied.  If there is no substantial pre-existing relationship between the child the family member, the fact that the child would miss out on the opportunity to develop a relationship with that family member is not enough to be considered "harm" to the child.  The judge can find that this "harm" is likely to occur if, prior to filing for visitation:

  1. the minor child resided with the family member for six months or more;
  2. the family member provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year;
  3. there was an established pattern of regular visitation or childcare by the family member with the child; or
  4. any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.*4

However, if one of the child's parents dies, is incapacitated, or is incarcerated, that parent's parent may only have to prove that visitation would be in the best interests of the child instead of proving one of the four factors listed above.  Also, the limitation (explained below) on filing more than once in a two-year period may not apply.*3  Please consult a lawyer if this is your situation.  You can find legal referrals on our GA Finding a Lawyer page.

Note: Even if a judge does not award visitation to the family member, the judge can still order the parent to notify the family member of any musical concerts, graduations, recitals, sporting events, etc., that the family member can attend. 

* O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(b)(1)(A),(b)(2)
*1 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(c)(2)
*2 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(d) 
*3 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(b)(1)(B)
*4 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(c)(1)

What is the effect of a parent's military deployment on custody issues?

There are specific laws that address the effect of a parent's military deployment on custody issues.  If this applies to you, please go to Georgia statute 19-9-3, which you can read on our statutes page - please scroll down to subsection (i).