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McDowell v. Bowers

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

September 14, 2017

BOWERS et al.



         Pursuant to a granted application for an interlocutory appeal, Richard Chad McDowell contends that the Superior Court of Bryan County erred in permitting Judith and Jeffrey Bowers, the paternal grandparents of J. N. S., a minor child, to intervene in his petition to adopt the child. Because Georgia law does not permit the grandparents to intervene under the circumstances presented in this case, we must reverse the superior court's order allowing the intervention.

         The relevant, undisputed facts of this case are as follows. J. N. S., the biological child of S. S. and E. S., was born in 2009. The child's parents divorced in 2012. The divorce decree, which established the parents' visitation rights, contained no provision concerning grandparent visitation. E. S. died in an accident in 2014. In September 2014, S. S. agreed to allow McDowell to adopt J. N. S., and the probate court granted McDowell letters of guardianship. McDowell is not a blood relative of J. N. S. Rather, McDowell was previously married to S. S. They had a son in 2005; they divorced in 2008. J. N. S. has regularly visited McDowell and his half-brother and has reportedly formed a bond with them. McDowell filed a petition to adopt J. N. S. on September 23, 2015. Shortly thereafter, the granparents filed their motion to intervene, which the superior court granted. According to their supporting brief, the grandparents are seeking custody of the child pursuant to OCGA §§ 19-7-3 and 19-8-15.

         "In matters of adoption, the superior court has a very broad discretion which will not be controlled by the appellate courts except in cases of plain abuse." (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Smith v. Hutcheson, 283 Ga.App. 117, 118 (640 S.E.2d 690) (2006). However, where, as here, an appeal involves a question of law, we owe no deference to the trial court and our review is de novo. Suarez v. Halbert, 246 Ga.App. 822, 824 (1) (543 S.E.2d 733) (2000).

         Although it is clear from the record that the grandparents believe they can provide the best possible life for their grandchild, Georgia law does not authorize them to intervene in this third-party adoption proceeding to obtain custody under the circumstances presented. Contrary to their contention, "OCGA § 19-7-3 only authorizes grandparents to intervene to obtain visitation rights in the proceedings specified in the Code section." (Citation omitted; emphasis supplied.) Murphy v. McCarthy, 201 Ga.App. 101, 102 (410 S.E.2d 198) (1991). This Code section does not authorize intervention for the purpose asserted by the granparents, that is, to object to the adoption and to obtain custody themselves.[1] Further, the only adoption proceedings listed in this Code section are those in which the child is being adopted by a blood relative or a stepparent, and McDowell is neither. OCGA § 19-7-3 (b) (1) (B). See Murphy v. McCarthy, 201 Ga.App. at 102. Finally, because "an adoption is not the equivalent of a proceeding to terminate parental rights within the meaning of OCGA § 19-7-3, " id., OCGA § 19-7-3 (b) (1) (B) provides no basis for permitting the grandparents to intervene.

         Rather, OCGA § 19-8-15 governs when objections by grandparents are allowed in adoption proceedings. Murphy v. McCarthy, 201 Ga.App. at 102. It provides that the blood relatives of a minor child may object to an adoption in limited circumstances. OCGA § 19-8-15 (b) provides, in relevant part:

If the child sought to be adopted has no legal father or legal mother living, it shall be the privilege of any person related by blood to the child to file objections to the petition for adoption. A family member with visitation rights to a child granted pursuant to Code Section 19-7-3 shall have the privilege to file objections to the petition of adoption if neither parent has any further rights to the child and if the petition for adoption has been filed by a blood relative of the child.

         Under the circumstances of this case, this Code section does not give the grandparents standing to object to the adoption. J. N. S.'s legal mother is alive and she has consented to the adoption.[2] Further, by its plain terms, OCGA § 19-8-15 (b) only provides that objections may be made when a blood relative files for adoption of the minor child, and McDowell is a non-relative third party. Finally, the grandparents have not established any visitation rights to J. N. S. pursuant to OCGA § 19-7-3.[3] Because the grandparents have failed to show that they have a legal right to object to the adoption, they are not authorized to intervene in this adoption proceeding, and the order granting intervention must be reversed. See Murphy v. McCarthy, 201 Ga.App. at 102.

         Judgment reversed.

          Andrews and Rickman, JJ., concur.



[1] OCGA § 19-7-3 (b) (1) (B) provides:

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