Child custody is one of the most difficult legal issues that any parent will face. The legal concepts are not particularly challenging, but the mental and emotional toll that addressing custody can cause is substantial. Parents always want what is best for their children. However, what one parent thinks is the best living arrangement for their child might not always be what is in the best interests of their child. Parents can request child custody modifications if their circumstances change. Learn more about custody modifications in Georgia by contacting the experienced family law attorneys at The Millard Law Firm. Contact our legal team today by calling (678) 319-9500.
Grounds for Child Custody Modifications in Georgia
Child custody orders will stay in place until a child turns 18 in Georgia. However, just because an order is in place does not mean it cannot change. Instead, modifications might be appropriate if life circumstances change. However, relatively minor situation alterations will not permit a custody modification. Changing a prior custody order requires a “material change in circumstances.” In addition, the State of Georgia specifically requires that change to affect or impact the child’s well-being.
Changing Custody Is Not the Same As Changing Visitation
Parents should keep in mind that child custody and visitation or parenting time are different concepts under Georgia law. Visitation might need to be changed when there is a simple scheduling change or the child ends up going to different activities or changing interests.
In most situations, parents can work out minor changes in visitation on their own. However, if parents cannot address these issues themselves, they may be able to use one of Georgia’s Access and Visitation Program providers to help address this type of issue. Nonetheless, parents may instead want to engage a family law attorney in Georgia for high-conflict cases or complex situations (including those that involve violence or drugs and alcohol). The Millard Law Firm can help with visitation conflicts, and ensure your legal and parental rights remain protected.
Examples of Substantial Change in Circumstances in Georgia
If the parents’ or child’s circumstances change, a custody modification might be appropriate. What constitutes a change in circumstances will vary based on the unique facts of the situation. In some cases, what might be a “substantial” or “material” change for one family may not be much of an adjustment for another family. Because each case is different, it is especially important to have a family law attorney help with custody modifications in Georgia. Examples of a material change in circumstances might include any of the following situations.
Relocation of Custodial Parent
A custodial parent has physical custody of a child. The custodial parent’s home is where the child lives the majority of the time. In some cases, a child will split their time between their two parents’ homes, so each parent has physical custody of their child. In those situations, there is often still one parent designated as the parent who has primary physical custody.
If the custodial parent moves, this may be a basis for a custody modification. This modification can affect both sole or joint custody arrangements. If this type of change occurs, the court will consider the best interests of the child when determining whether the custodial parent’s relocation should affect the current custody arrangement. Parents are generally required to tell the other parent of any planned moves by providing at least a 30-day notice. They must usually provide the full new address to the other parent or anyone else who has visitation rights.
A Child Requests to Change the Custodial Parent
Georgia permits children to voice an opinion about where they would like to live. In fact, Georgia is one of just a few states that permits a child’s opinion to be a relevant ground for a custody modification. As a general rule, if the child is over the age of 14, they can let the court know where they would like to live, and the court will often honor those wishes. However, if the move is not actually in the child’s best interests, the court will not permit custody modification. Even at an older age, a child may not know or understand what is truly in their best interests.
Georgia also allows children over the age of 11 to describe a preference about where they would like to live. The judge will take the child’s preference into consideration when awarding custody, but they might also appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to represent the child and provide insight into the custody decision as well.
The Custodial Parent Has Become Unfit
Parents must be “fit” to have custody of their children. If a circumstance has changed such that the parent is no longer able to care for their child, that change may warrant a custody modification. Examples of being unfit might include:
- Drug or alcohol abuse (including relocation to a rehabilitation center);
- Homelessness or unstable housing;
- Mental illness;
- Physical illness that prevents a parent from caring for their child;
- Deployment or another military service; or
- Domestic abuse or violence.
In some cases, a parent becomes unfit very suddenly, or the knowledge of the situation becomes apparent only after something dangerous has already occurred in the home. In those situations, the court might permit an emergency and/or temporary change of custody. This temporary change could be for a set period of time, or it could be in place until the court can have a trial on permanent change.
Georgia has special provisions for periods of deployment for military families. A custodial parent can temporarily modify parenting plans and custody during the period of deployment without negatively affecting their long-term custody arrangements.
Get Help With Custody Modifications in Georgia
Parents often request custody modifications when they have serious concerns about the health and safety of their children. These situations can be extremely frightening and emotionally draining. Going through a custody modification request alone may not be a good idea. Instead, you might want to consult with an experienced Georgia family law attorney for help. Contact our compassionate and dedicated family law attorneys at The Millard Law Firm by calling (678) 319-9500. Our team may be able to explain your rights and obligations to you and help you decide if a child custody modification request will make sense for your situation.