Woman Can't Force Stepmother to Give Access to Father

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By Julianne Tobin Wojay

May 9 — Equitable relief is not available to the adult daughter of an elderly but competent father to compel his new wife to give her unimpeded access to him, where she failed to state a legally cognizable wrong or injury to be remedied, the Georgia Supreme Court held May 9 ( Williford v. Brown, 2016 BL 146543, Ga., No. S16A0177, 5/9/16 ).

Recognizing that there is no Georgia statute or case law giving an adult child a right of unimpeded access to a competent parent, Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief against her father's new wife. She alleged that her father is in poor physical health but in good mental condition, that they have a good relationship, and that the wife is preventing her from contacting him.

The petition requested an order requiring the wife to allow her unimpeded access to her father or appointing a guardian ad litem for him to ascertain his wishes. The wife's answer denied that Williford is her husband's biological daughter, that he is in poor health, that he wishes to have contact with Williford, and that she has interfered in any way with such contact.

The wife also filed a motion to dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The trial court granted her motion. Williford appealed.

Equity's Reluctance

Justice David E. Nahmias disagreed with Williford's characterization of the court's ruling. Contrary to her assertion, he said, it did not flatly rule that it could not hear her equitable petition because it involved a domestic matter.

Instead, he determined, “the court properly recognized equity's general reluctance to interfere in cases involving personal and domestic matters that do not also implicate the plaintiff's legal status or personal or property rights before explaining why, under the case law, an equitable remedy was not appropriate[.]”

Next considering Williford's claim that the court erred in ruling that an adult child does not have a right of unrestrained visitation with a competent parent, Nahmias pointed out that under Ga. Code Ann. § 23-1-3 “a party invoking the power of a court to craft an equitable remedy must first identify some legally cognizable `wrong' or `injur[y]' that needs to be remedied.”

No Cognizable Wrong or Injury

Noting that she acknowledged that there is no state law or case providing such a right, he said that “even if” Williford was undisputedly the father's biological child, and “even if” his wife were her biological mother, “Williford has identified no cognizable wrong or injury that requires a remedy, legal or equitable.”

Thus, Nahmias concluded, “the trial court properly held that, even accepting as true the facts alleged in Ms. Williford's petition, she failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.”

He added (in a footnote) that because Williford did not allege that the wife had prevented her father from leaving home or communicating with persons other than herself, “we need not address the situation where a person is allegedly being held completely incommunicado illegally and against his will.”

Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson and Justices P. Harris Hines, Robert Benham, Carol W. Hunstein, Harold D. Melton and Keith R. Blackwell concurred.

The daughter was represented by Douglas T. Kidd, Lavonia, Ga., and the wife by Larry L. Hicks II and Milon Moore, of Moore & Hicks, P.C., Hartwell, Ga.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julianne Tobin Wojay in Washington at jwojay@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Jackson at djackson@bna.com