Filial Friday: Georgia Supreme Court Rules that No Equitable “Right of Access” is Created by Filial Support Law

June 23, 2016

Adult daughter Tamara Williford filed a petition for equitable relief in February 2015, seeking a Georgia court’s order that her father’s current wife must allow her access to her father.  Williford alleged that her father,  Tommy Brown, was in poor physical health, unable to leave his home, but in good mental condition.  She said she had talked with him regularly by telephone and in person, until his wife prevented her from doing so.

Apparently Mrs. Brown, Tommy’s wife, was named as the only defendant in the lawsuit, and responded by denying Williford was a biological child, denying her husband was in poor health, and denying that he wanted to see Williford.

In June 2016, the trial court dismissed Williford’s petition, and she took a timely appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. Oral argument was held in February 2016.

In Williford v. Brown decided May 9, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court (pictured above) unanimously affirmed the dismissal, finding that there was no statutory or other legal grounds alleged that would support the “equitable remedy” sought by Ms. Williford.  Specifically, the court rejected the argument made on appeal that Georgia’s version of a filial support law, OCGA Section 36-12-3, provided grounds for relief.  That statute says:

The father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by Code Section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.

The court concluded that this section “does not purport to confer on adult children a right to unrestrained visitation” with  parents.  “Moreover, Ms. Williford did not allege in her petition that Mr. Brown is a ‘pauper,’ much less that she believes that Hart County has or will ever have to maintain him at county expenses and then pursue an action against her.”

In a footnote to the ruling, the court observes that the daughter “did not alleged and does not claim on appeal” that the wife prevented her husband “from leaving his home or communicate with persons other than Ms. Williford.” Therefore, the court said it was not necessary to address whether a theory of “general habeas corpus” where a person was allegedly held “incommunicado illegally and against his will.”

This seems like a very sad case. One Georgia elder law attorney suggests that “if the ruling in this case disturbs you, then perhaps it is a good time to call your local legislator.”