The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed an award of child custody to a paternal grandmother in its February 2020 decision in Reder v. Dodds.(1) There, evidence at trial showed that the teenaged child had been adopted by the father from Nicaragua when she was six or seven years old. The child subsequently had lived with father in multiple locations and domestic relationships, including in Indiana with father and the paternal grandparents, with father and a woman whom he married and then divorced, in Chicago with father, and in Atlanta with father and a man who married father and then divorced him and returned to his native Germany. Father thereafter made plans to move with the child yet again, to Mexico. He became estranged from his former spouses, his mother and her husband, and others with whom the child had relationships. He removed the child from public school and began home schooling her. While traveling to Mexico for long periods, he left the child with a family whose teenaged son was credibly accused by the child of molesting her, but neither father nor the boy’s parent believed the child. The grandmother’s evidence at trial showed that the child felt responsible for her stepfather’s departure to Germany and expressed suicidal thoughts then and at other times. After the paternal grandmother filed a petition for grandparent visitation and custody, father attempted to move to Mexico with the child, and the trial court awarded temporary custody to the grandmother, who then enrolled the child in school in Indiana, provided the child with a significant, stable social network and family support, arranged weekly psychological treatment, and obtained help for the child’s specific learning disorder. Based on the evidence, the trial court found that the instability from frequent moves and changes in caregivers, as well as the father’s behavior, were emotionally traumatic and harmful to the child. The child herself expressed suicidal thoughts to her guardian ad litem and a psychologist at the thought of her father having custody.(2) Finding that the trial court had properly considered the Clark v. Wade factors and that the evidence supported the trial court’s findings that the child would suffer significant, long-term emotional harm were the father to receive custody, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s award of permanent custody to the grandmother.(3)

The Court of Appeals affirmed an award of child custody to maternal grandparents in its June 2020 decision in Braddock v. Lindsey.(4) The grandparents had intervened in the parents’ divorce action, in which the father had sought permanent custody of the party’s minor child. At trial, the grandmother testified that the child had once returned from visitation with father having a bruise and welts on her buttocks, that the child several times had returned with what appeared to be flea bites on various parts of her body, and that the child had exhibited irritableness, violent outbursts, sickness, bed-wetting, fear of going to the bathroom alone, and fear of the dark after returning from father’s house. Based on the evidence of the bites and bruises found on the child after returning from visitation at her father’s home, the trial court found that physical harm would occur if the child were removed from grandparent’s home and given to father.(5) Affirming the trial court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals found adequate support in the grandmother’s testimony regarding the bites and bruises on the child’s body and regarding the child’s irritableness and violent-outbursts following visitation with the father. Although father refuted the grandmother’s testimony, the Court of Appeals further held that the trial court was authorized to credit the grandmother’s testimony alleging recent physical harm to the child. The trial court also found that the child would suffer great psychological harm under father’s custody, based on grandmother’s testimony regarding the child’s bed-wetting, fears, irritableness, and violent outbursts following visitation with father. That finding too was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.(6)

The Court of Appeals affirmed an award of custody to a maternal grandmother in its June 2021 decision in Blackwelder v. Shugard.(7) There, the biological father of two of three of a mother’s children had obtained primary physical custody of his two children from the mother under an interim order (primarily due to mother’s drug abuse, unmanaged mental health issues, and unsafe home environment) but then lost custody to the maternal grandmother. The trial court found that the father had no visitation rights or relationship with the mother’s third child, had a history of domestic violence against the mother and others with whom he had resided, and had allowed his toddler child to fall into a swimming pool within a few feet of him and nearly die while he drank beer and sent angry text messages to the maternal grandmother. In contrast to those negative findings, the trial court found that the children had spent significant time in grandmother’s home and that grandmother had provided for their health and dental needs, and for their subsistence, education, and nurturing. The trial court accordingly found that the dynamics of the parents’ lives had directly injured the two children in controversy, presenting a real and present danger of physical, emotional, and psychological harm to the children if either parent should be entrusted with unsupervised physical custody of them.(8) On father’s appeal, the trial court’s custody award was affirmed, because the trial court had explicitly addressed the grandparent-versus-parent custody factors established under Clark v. Wade, and clear and convincing evidence in the record supported the findings of a history of domestic violence by father and one child’s near-drowning while father was engaged in a barrage of angry text messages to the grandmother.(9)

(1) Reder v. Dodds, 354 Ga.App. 598, 839 S.E.2d 708 (2020) (physical precedent). (2) Id., 839 S.E.2d at 710-711. (3) Id., 839 S.E.2d at 711-712(3). (4) Braddock v. Lindsey, 355 Ga.App. 700, 845 S.E.2d 731 (2020). (5) Id., 355 Ga.App. at 701-702. (6) Id., 355 Ga.App. at 705-706. (7) Blackwelder v. Shugard, 360 Ga.App. 306, 861 S.E.2d 141 (2021). (8) Id., 360 Ga.App. at 307-309. (9) Id., at 310(1).

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