Grandparent visitation. Whitfield Superior Court. Before Judge Morris.
Ashley Keith, pro se.
James E. Toland, Jr., for appellee.
Susan J. Callahan filed a petition seeking visitation rights to her minor granddaughter, A. C., pursuant to OCGA § 19-7-3. Following a hearing, the trial court entered judgment in favor of Callahan. A. C.'s mother (the " mother" ), who is Callahan's daughter, appeals that order, asserting that the trial court erred as a matter of law in awarding visitation to Callahan. Having considered her arguments, we find no error and affirm.
In reviewing an order granting grandparent visitation, " we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's judgment to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found by clear and convincing evidence that the mandated visitation was [332 Ga.App. 292] authorized." (Citation omitted.) Esasky v. Ford, 321 Ga.App. 891, 892 (743 S.E.2d 550) (2013). And in doing so, " [w]e do not weigh the evidence or determine witness credibility, but defer to the trial court's factfinding and affirm unless the evidence fails to satisfy the appellate standard of review." (Citation omitted.) Id.
So viewed, the evidence shows that A. C. was born on December 25, 2007. The mother and father, having never married, separated in July 2011. In September 2011, the mother began a relationship with Michael Keith, whom she later married in November 2013. Beginning when A. C. was born and continuing through 2009, Callahan watched A. C. every day that the mother worked. From 2009 through January 2014, Callahan continued to watch A. C. two to three days per week, including overnight every Friday night. Callahan has a bedroom set up just for A. C. at her home. She frequently paid for A. C.'s meals and activities and took her shopping for trinkets and clothing. And while the mother was attending nursing school in 2011 and 2012, Callahan provided so much financial assistance that she claimed A. C. as a dependent on her tax returns with the mother's permission.
However, on February 5, 2014, as she was returning A. C. to the mother and Michael's home, Michael angrily confronted her and told her that she would not be allowed to take A. C. again unless she also included his two sons from his previous marriage. Shortly thereafter, Callahan filed a petition for visitation with A. C. pursuant to OCGA § 19-7-3. The parties' attempt at court-ordered mediation was unsuccessful, and the case proceeded to a final hearing on August 4, 2014, at which Callahan, the mother, and Michael each testified. On August 8, 2014, the trial court entered an order setting forth findings of fact and concluding, under a standard of clear and convincing evidence, that A. C.'s welfare would be harmed unless visitation with Callahan is granted and that it is in A. C.'s best interest that such visitation be granted.
1. The mother first argues that the trial court erred in granting visitation because her decision should be conclusive. However, Georgia law expressly provides
that " [w]hile a parent's decision ... shall be given deference by the court, the parent's decision shall not be [332 Ga.App. 293] conclusive when failure to provide grandparent contact would result in emotional harm to the child." (Emphasis supplied.) OCGA § 19-7-3 (c) (3). And, a trial court " may grant any grandparent ... reasonable visitation rights if the court finds the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless such visitation is granted and if the best interests of the child would be served by such visitation." (Emphasis supplied.) OCGA § 19-7-3 (c) (1). Thus, the mother's reading of the statute as conferring upon her conclusive authority to grant Callahan visitation with A. C. is incorrect. As this Court has explained, this statute
was enacted to provide a mechanism for courts to grant a grandparent visitation rights with his or her minor grandchild, where, as here, a child's parent objects. In this regard, the statute codified a standard for the trial courts to utilize in balancing the wishes of an alienated ...