Local woman cited for efforts to help children

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Jessica Patton’s latest journey started as a personal one, but now she is hoping to help thousands of people struggling with a painful but all-too-common situation.

Jessica Patton accepts a proclamation of Parental Awareness Day from McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland. Special photo

She started last November organizing the drive to pass what is now known as Nicholas’ Law, sparked by her inability to see her nephew for about a year. Currently known as House Bill 229 and sponsored by Rep. Brian Strickland, it addresses child visitation rights for aunts and uncles under various custody arrangements.

Strickland confirmed Friday that the bill remains in the House’s Juvenile Justice Committee and will be there at the start of the 2016 legislative session.

Through the process of educating herself about this very personal issue, Patton met many other people who have been affected by parental alienation, for which she is now on a mission to increase awareness everywhere.

She has gotten the attention of all four cities in the county. The city councils of Hampton, Stockbridge and McDonough have all presented her with proclamations acknowledging Parental Alienation Awareness Day, which is April 25. That day is also this year’s Locust Grove Day celebration, and she will host a Bubbles of Love event there while receiving a proclamation from Locust Grove as well.

Parental Alienation Awareness Day, which is commemorated worldwide, is currently recognized in 17 states including Georgia, beginning in 2008 under former Gov. Sonny Perdue. This year Gov. Nathan Deal went a step further, declaring an entire week.

Patton noted that Henry County is the first county in the state in which all cities have issued proclamations for this special day.

Parental alienation can stem from a variety of situations, but it always impacts children who have zero responsibility for whatever happened in their parents’ relationship. When a mom and dad break up and a custody battle begins, the extended family members who are extremely close to the children can suddenly find themselzves cut off completely. This is especially true when the child’s parents were never officially married and even the father’s own rights can be less certain.

“I met many people who had a sibling die and the other parent would not let them have contact with the niece or nephew,” said Patton. “Right now in Georgia the only people with rights are the grandparents.”

The intent of Nicholas’ Law is not to give aunts and uncles automatic rights in every instance, but in certain circumstances where it can be proven that alienation would be harmful to the relationship.

Patton’s petition that was begun a few months ago has 1,300 signatures, and her Facebook page reached 1,000 likes last week.

This weekend at Locust Grove Day her Bubbles of Love event will consist of participants blowing bubbles for ten minutes in honor of children everywhere who are affected by parental alienation.