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Recent Georgia Rulings Stress Importance Of Careful Custody Pleadings

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How important are your court filings in custody cases? According to the Georgia Court of Appeals: very important. Two recent decisions from the Court of Appeals serve as a great reminder that the contents of your pleadings can make or break your custody case. Together, these cases demonstrate how important it is that your initial pleadings are specific and complete, and that if your position changes during the litigation, you make sure to amend those pleadings as your case progresses.

In Bass v. Medy, a father filed a petition for modification of the mother’s visitation schedule. 358 Ga. App. 827 (2021). At a hearing, the trial court went further than the father’s request and found that the mother’s long-term absence from the children was a material change of circumstances that warranted a more significant custody change. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the trial court violated the mother’s due process rights when it made a change of custody where father had not requested one. Because his petition only requested a modification of visitation, the trial court had exceeded its authority in going beyond the pleadings to modify the custodial arrangements.

The Court of Appeals reached a similar result in Pascal v. Pino, 361 Ga. App. 212 (2021). In that case, the mother filed a petition to modify custody, and the father counterclaimed for a modification of child support. At trial, the trial court decided it was in the children’s best interests for the father to have primary custody and it entered an order changing primary custody from the mother to the father. Again, on appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision. In Pascal, the Court of Appeals held that because the father had only requested a modification of child support in his pleadings, he could not be awarded a change in custody—even though the mother had requested a change in custody. The fact that the mother requested the change did not change the requirement that the father had to also request the change to allow the trial court to make a custodial change in his favor.

What a party requests in their pleadings can have a significant impact on the outcome of your custody case. Careful attention to detail is necessary in litigating a contested custody action, which makes selection of knowledgeable counsel all the more important. At Buckhead Family Law, our attorneys make an effort to stay informed about developments in the law like these cases and incorporate these developments into our practice. If you think you may need help in your custody case, schedule a consultation with our attorneys today by calling 404-600-1403 or through our Contact Form.

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