19-7-3. Grant of visitation rights to family members
(a) As used in this Code section, the term :
(1) “Family member” means a grandparent, great-grandparent, or sibling.
(2) “Grandparent” means the parent of a parent of a minor child, the parent of a minor child’s parent who has died, and the parent of a minor child’s parent whose parental rights have been terminated.
(3) “Great-grandparent” means the parent of the parent of a parent of a minor child, the parent of the parent of a minor child’s parent who has died, and the parent of the parent of a minor child’s parent whose parental rights have been terminated.
(4) “Sibling” means the brother or sister of a parent of a minor child, the brother or sister of a minor child’s parent who has died, and the brother or sister of a minor child’s parent whose parental rights have been terminated.
(b)(1) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection:
(A) Any grandparent shall have the right to file an original action for visitation rights to a minor child; and
(B) Any family member shall have the right to intervene in and seek to obtain visitation rights in any action in which any court in this state shall have before it any question concerning the custody of a minor child, a divorce of the parents or a parent of such minor child, a termination of the parental rights of either parent of such minor child, or visitation rights concerning such minor child or whenever there has been an adoption in which the adopted child has been adopted by the child’s blood relative or by a stepparent, notwithstanding the provisions of Code Section 19-8-19.
(2) This subsection shall not authorize an original action when the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both parents.
(c)(1) Upon the filing of an original action or upon intervention in an existing proceeding under subsection (b) of this Code section, the court may grant any family member of the child reasonable visitation rights if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that 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. The mere absence of an opportunity for a child to develop a relationship with a family member shall not be considered as harming the health or welfare of the child when there is no substantial preexisting relationship between the child and such family member. In considering whether the health or welfare of the child would be harmed without such visitation, the court shall consider and may find that harm to the child is reasonably likely to result when, prior to the original action or intervention:
(A) The minor child resided with the family member for six months or more;
(B) The family member provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year;
(C) There was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the family member with the child; or
(D) Any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.
The court shall make specific written findings of fact in support of its rulings.
(2) An original action requesting visitation rights shall not be filed by any grandparent more than once during any two-year period and shall not be filed during any year in which another custody action has been filed concerning the child. 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.
(3) While a parent’s decision regarding family member visitation shall be given deference by the court, the parent’s decision shall not be conclusive when failure to provide family member contact would result in emotional harm to the child. A court may presume that a child who is denied any contact with his or her family member or who is not provided some minimal opportunity for contact with his or her family member when there is a preexisting relationship between the child and such family member may suffer emotional injury that is harmful to such child’s health. Such presumption shall be a rebuttable presumption.
(4) In no case shall the granting of visitation rights to a family member interfere with a child’s school or regularly scheduled extracurricular activities.
(5) Visitation time awarded to a family member shall not be less than 24 hours in any one-month period; provided, however, that when more than one individual seeks visitation under this Code section, the court shall determine the amount of time to award to each petitioner which shall not be less than 24 hours in any one-month period in the aggregate.
(d) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (b) and (c) of this Code section, if one of the parents of a minor child dies, is incapacitated, or is incarcerated, the court may award the parent of the deceased, incapacitated, or incarcerated parent of such minor child reasonable visitation to such child during his or her minority if the court in its discretion finds that such visitation would be in the best interests of the child. The custodial parent’s judgment as to the best interests of the child regarding visitation shall be given deference by the court but shall not be conclusive.
(e) If the court finds that the family member can bear the cost without unreasonable financial hardship, the court, at the sole expense of the petitioning family member, may:
(1) Appoint a guardian ad litem for the minor child; and
(2) Assign the issue of visitation rights of a family member for mediation.
(f) In the event that the court does not order mediation or upon failure of the parties to reach an agreement through mediation, the court shall fix a time for the hearing of the issue of visitation rights of the family member.
(g) Whether or not visitation is awarded to a family member, the court may direct a custodial parent, by court order, to notify such family member of every performance of the minor child to which the public is admitted, including, but not limited to, musical concerts, graduations, recitals, and sporting events or games.
(h) When more than one family member files an action pursuant to this Code section, the court shall determine the priority of such actions.