X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

Pipkin, Judge. This case involving a custody dispute between Laura Steedley, the mother of seven-year-old C. B. G., and Diane Gilbreth, the child’s maternal grandmother,[1] has made several appearances before this Court. Most recently,[2] in Steedley v.Gilbreth, 352 Ga. App. 179 (834 SE2d 301) (2019) (Steedley II), we vacated a temporary order granting custody to the Grandmother and remanded to the trial court for additional analysis and findings of fact required by Clark v. Wade, 273 Ga. 587, 598-599 (IV) (544 SE2d 99) (2001). Steedley II, 352 Ga. App. at 181 (1). The trial court then issued a joint custody order, awarding the Mother “primary physical custody” and granting the Grandmother visitation rights one week and one weekend a month; the order also required the parties to “work together for the best interest of the child” and to “cooperate on holidays and birthdays.” The Mother appeals,[3] and we now reverse. As we explained in Steedley II, “[c]ustody disputes between a parent and close third-party relatives, including grandparents, are governed by OCGA § 19-7-1 (b.1).” 352 Ga. App. at 180. Although in Steedley II, we remanded this case to the trial court with instructions for the trial court to engage in proper factfinding and the analysis required by Clark to support its custody award to the Grandmother, that is not what the trial court did; instead, citing OCGA § 19-9-3, the court entered an order setting out a joint custody arrangement between the Mother and the Grandmother.[4] This was error. On its face, OCGA § 19-9-3 governs custody and visitation between a child’s parents, and provides no authority for an award of joint custody between a parent and other relatives, including grandparents.[5] As our Supreme Court explained in Stone v. Stone, 297 Ga. 451 (774 SE2d 681) (2015), “[i]n the Georgia Code, our legislature has clearly indicated that joint custody arrangements do not include third parties when one or both parents are suitable custodians. . . . Quite explicitly, the statute includes grandparents with parents for purposes of contact (visitation) with the minor child, but, when rights and responsibilities (custody) are in consideration, the statute excludes grandparents and encourages sharing between the parents only.” Id at 452-453. Thus, while a grandparent, or other listed relative, may obtain sole custody of a child under certain circumstances, see Clark v. Wade, 273 Ga. at 598-599 (IV), “in situations where a parent is suitable to exercise custody over a child, [neither OCGA § 19-7-1 (b.1) nor any other code section] allow[s] that parental custody to be limited by a joint custody arrangement with a grandparent or, for that matter, any other person.” Stone, 297 Ga. at 455. By granting the mother primary physical custody, the trial court in this case necessarily determined that the Mother was “suitable” to have custody of her child, and the trial court was not authorized to enter a joint custody arrangement with the Grandmother. E.g., Jewell v. McGinnis, 341 Ga. App. 896, 896 (1) (802 SE2d 306) (2017) (“The Supreme Court of Georgia and this Court have both held that a third party may have sole legal custody of a child when no parent is suitable for custody; however, Georgia statutory law only supports joint legal custody arrangements between parents.”); Marks v. Soles, 339 Ga. App. 380, 386 (2) (793 SE2d 587) (2016) (“Absent a finding that both parents were unfit, the trial court was not authorized to award any legal or physical custody to the . . . child’s paternal grandparents.”); Sheffield v. Sheffield, 338 Ga. App. 667, 669 (791 SE2d 428) (2016) (“while a third party may have sole legal custody of a child when no parent is suitable for custody, Georgia law only allows joint custody arrangements between parents.”). We note however, that OCGA § 19-9-3 (d) does encourage contact with grandparents, see Stone, 297 Ga. at 455, and nothing in our holding should be read to preclude the Grandmother from seeking, or the trial court from granting, reasonable visitation rights with her grandson. However, the mechanism for obtaining such visitation is set out in OCGA § 19-7-3, not 19-9-3. See Stone, 297 Ga. at 455. Further, in order to grant a family member reasonable visitation rights under OCGA § 19-7-3 (c) (1), the court must first find by clear and convincing evidence that the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless such visitation is granted and the best interests of the child would be served by such visitation.[6] Id at 454; see also Davis v. Cicala, 356 Ga. App. 873, 875-876 (849 SE2d 728) (2020). Here, the trial court did not recite OCGA § 19-7-3 in its order, and it did not make the findings which would be necessary to grant the Grandmother reasonable visitation rights pursuant to subsection (c) (1).[7] Accordingly, we do not address whether the Grandmother would be entitled to such rights should she decide to pursue them. Based on the foregoing, the trial court’s order is reversed and the case is remanded with direction for the trial court to enter an order awarding sole physical and legal custody to the mother.[8] Judgment reversed. Miller, P. J., and Hodges, J., concur.

 
Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.

More From ALM

Premium Subscription

With this subscription you will receive unlimited access to high quality, online, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry. This is perfect for attorneys licensed in multiple jurisdictions or for attorneys that have fulfilled their CLE requirement but need to access resourceful information for their practice areas.
View Now

Team Accounts

Our Team Account subscription service is for legal teams of four or more attorneys. Each attorney is granted unlimited access to high quality, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry along with administrative access to easily manage CLE for the entire team.
View Now

Bundle Subscriptions

Gain access to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys with our 2 bundle options! Our Compliance bundles are curated by CLE Counselors and include current legal topics and challenges within the industry. Our second option allows you to build your bundle and strategically select the content that pertains to your needs. Both options are priced the same.
View Now

BenefitsPRO Broker Expo 2021

May 18, 2021 - August 18, 2021
Virtual / San Diego, CA

The premier educational and networking event for employee benefits brokers and agents.


Register

African Legal Awards 2021

September 03, 2021
TBD

The African Legal Awards are set out to recognise exceptional achievement from Africa s legal elite.


Register

General Counsel Summit (GCS) 2021

September 07, 2021 - September 08, 2021
Sydney

General Counsel Summit is the premier event for in-house counsel, hosting esteemed legal minds from all sectors of the economy.


Register

Montgomery County, PA – Litigation Associate

Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, United States

Fox Rothschild LLP has an opening in the Montgomery County (Blue Bell), PA office for a litigation associate. The ideal candidate will have&...


Apply Now ›

Montgomery County, PA – Senior Attorney (Non-Partnership Track)

Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, United States

Fox Rothschild LLP has an opening in the Montgomery County (Blue Bell), PA office for a Senior Attorney in the Litigation Department. T...


Apply Now ›

Atlanta, GA – Litigation Associate

Atlanta, Georgia, United States

Fox Rothschild LLP has an opening in the Atlanta, GA office for an associate with 3 – 5 years of business litigation experience. A str...


Apply Now ›

VAN DER VEEN, O NEILL, HARTSHORN, AND LEVIN

07/27/2021
TLI Web

VAN DER VEEN, O NEILL, HARTSHORN, AND LEVIN is pleased to welcome Frank Breitman, Esq. a talented and respected litigator to our ranks of trial lawyers.


View Announcement ›

HARWOOD LLOYD, LLC

07/26/2021
NJLJ Web

HARWOOD LLOYD, LLC Welcomes Beth L. Barnhard, Esq. Beth has joined the firm as Counsel in the Wills, Trusts and Estates Department. She is Certified to be an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the ABAaccredited National Elder Law Foundation.


View Announcement ›

SNYDER SARNO D'ANIELLO MACERI & DACOSTA

07/26/2021
NJLJ Web

SNYDER SARNO D'ANIELLO MACERI & DACOSTA is Proud to Announce the opening of New Morristown Office!


View Announcement ›