Two prior articles have summarized Georgia’s Grandparent Visitation Rights Act of 2012 and its 2022 amendment (the “Act”).(1) As they discussed, the Act as amended expressly authorizes grandparents (as well as great-grandparents and siblings) to file original actions for visitation rights to minor children or to intervene in existing divorce or custody actions to claim such rights. But what happens after a grandparent obtains a court order granting visitation? Can those awarded rights subsequently be expanded, reduced, or otherwise modified by a court? This article answers those questions.

The Act itself specifies that a child’s legal guardian can seek revocation or amendment of visitation rights previously awarded to a grandparent. “After visitation rights have been granted to any grandparent, the legal custodian, guardian of the person, or parent of the child may petition the court for revocation or amendment of such visitation rights, for good cause shown, which the court, in its discretion, may grant or deny; but such a petition shall not be filed more than once in any two-year period.”(2)

Because the Act contains no language explicitly authorizing or prohibiting grandparents’ filing of petitions to expand or otherwise modify their previously-granted visitation rights, that entitlement has remained open to interpretation by trial courts since the Act’s passage. A recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Georgia, however, has finally spoken to the matter.(3)

Shelley Namdar-Yeganeh v. Cyndi Namdar-Yeganeh et al. involved a petition filed by paternal grandparents in Georgia to modify visitation rights previously granted to them by a New Mexico court after the children’s father had died. On mother’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss the modification petition, the Court of Appeals addressed the narrow issue whether the Act or any other provision of Georgia law authorizes a grandparent who has been granted visitation rights to file a petition seeking to modify the existing visitation order. The Court of Appeals answered that question in the negative. Applying settled rules of statutory interpretation, the Court held that the Act’s plain language merely entitles grandparents either to file an original action or to intervene in a pending action, and specifically lists only legal custodians, guardians, or parents of a child as the groups of persons who may petition to modify previously-granted grandparent visitation.(4) The Court also rejected the trial court’s conclusions that the Act did not represent the only means to modify grandparent visitation, and that Georgia’s child custody statute(5) and the caselaw interpreting it supplement the Act’s provisions and enable grandparents to file actions to modify their previously-granted visitation rights. As the Court explained, the Act on its face applies to grandparent visitation, while the child custody statute on its face applies to custody disputes between parents.(6) Although a subsection of the custody statute mentions Georgia’s public policy to encourage a child’s continuing contact with grandparents(7), another subsection which authorizes modification actions does not mention grandparents(8). Moreover, contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, that modification subsection of the child custody statute did not authorize the grandparents in this case to initiate an action modifying their visitation rights, because that subsection explicitly applies in ‘any case in which a judgment awarding the custody of a child has been entered,’ and no such judgment had been entered in the case.(9)

The Court of Appeals’ holding in Namdar-Yeganeh seemingly leaves the question open whether grandparents can rely on the child custody statute to authorize their filing of a modification action if a prior child custody order previously was entered in a divorce action, legitimation action, or other prior custody case between the grandchildren’s parents. As it happens, the grandparents in Namdar-Yeganeh have petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court for a Writ of Certiorari. If their petition is granted, one can only hope the high Court will address this open question as part of its ruling.

(1) O.C.G.A. 19-7-3. (2) O.C.G.A. 19-7-3(c)(2). (3) Shelley Namdar-Yeganeh v. Cyndi Namdar-Yeganeh et al., Nos. A23A0999 and A23A1000 (Ga. Ct. App., October 26, 2023). (4) Id., at 8. (5) O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3. (6) Namdar-Yeganeh, supra, at 9-11. (7) O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(d). (8) O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(b). (9) Namdar-Yeganeh, supra, at * 11.

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