There is no doubt that Georgia law recognizes how important it is for grandparents to play an active role in the lives of their grandchildren. In fact, Georgia’s Grandparent Visitation Statute expressly permits grandparents to establish legal visitation rights with their grandchildren under certain circumstances. Although Georgia law respects the rights of Georgia grandparents, a recent Georgia Supreme Court case reaffirms that joint child custody should be reserved for parents.
In Stone v. Stone, S15F0064 (Ga. June 29, 2015), the Supreme Court considered an order entered by a trial court awarding joint custody of the child to the child’s father and maternal grandmother. David Stone (husband/father) and Annna Stone (wife/mother) divorced in January 2014. The parenting plan incorporated into the couple’s final divorce decree awarded joint legal custody of the couple’s minor child to Husband and the child’s maternal Grandmother. Husband was granted primary physical custody, Grandmother was awarded visitation rights, and Wife, who the court found was unfit to have custody of the child, was given only a potential for future visitation. On appeal filed by David Stone challenging the trial court’s custody determination, the Georgia Supreme Court held:
[…][T]he trial court in this case had no power to grant joint custody to Husband and Grandmother, and that award must be vacated. This result does not mean, however, that the statute does not respect and promote the interaction of loving grandparents with a minor child. To the contrary, the statute encourages contact with grandparents in O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3 (d), and O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3 provides a mechanism for a grant of visitation rights to grandparents when necessary to ensure and preserve this contact. Also, in situations where neither parent is suitable to have custody, a grandparent might certainly be “a person” qualified to have sole custody of a minor child. However, in situations where a parent is suitable to exercise custody over a child, the statute does not allow that parental custody to be limited by a joint custody arrangement with a grandparent or, for that matter, any other person.
Id. Put plainly, the Georgia Supreme Court determined that although grandparent’s right to grandchild visitation should be respected, Georgia law does not recognize joint custody arraignments between parents and grandparents. Joint custody may only be shared by parents.