Seeking Changes To Child Custody
When a Georgia couple divorces, child custody is a topic that is generally dealt with during the proceedings. The state will grant parenting time and custody based on what it believes serves the best interests of the child or children, but sometimes, that ‘best interest’ will change over time. The child themselves may have experienced a life change, or either or both parents could, and when that happens, the custody arrangement may need to be revisited. It is possible to do so in a relatively streamlined way.
Decision-Making Is Paramount
Georgia recognizes two types of custody, legal and physical, and these may either be granted solely (that is, to one parent) or jointly (to both). Many confuse legal custody with visitation, when in reality the two are markedly different. Legal custody of a child is defined as the ‘care, control and maintenance’ of a child, while visitation, also called physical custody, is merely that – the opportunity to visit with the child. Both are important, but the parent or guardian who has legal custody is the one who can make decisions for the child and has overall authority over them and their well-being.
There is no presumption in Georgia law toward any type of custody, at least not as of this writing; each case is considered potentially different, and as such, the facts must be heard before a decision of this magnitude is made. There is also no presumption in favor of either the father or the mother being granted custody, despite previously stereotypical attitudes; either parent is assumed to be able to manage child rearing if the other circumstances in their life support them having legal custody. The court will make custody determinations based solely on the child’s best interests, though if the child is over the age of 14, they do have the right to elect who will have physical custody unless it is ruled not to be in their own best interests.
Seeking A Change
Because so many will confuse legal custody with physical custody, many custody petitions are tossed out or denied. If you seek a change in legal custody of your child or children, you must be able to show a “material change of condition” which has the potential to “substantially affect” the welfare of the child or children. Examples might include yourself or the child becoming disabled, or something happening to your co-parent such as addiction issues. The court retains the absolute right to approve or deny custody modifications, but it often approves them, especially if the best interest of the child is at issue.
Be advised that in addition to the petition seeking a change, you must also be able to submit a new parenting plan to support your modification request. A parenting plan is required in every Georgia divorce; it can be defined as a sort of contract (though not a binding one) which sets up rules by which the couple’s children will be parented. This does mean that your ex-spouse or co-parent will need to sign off on the modification request except in unusual circumstances – if they do not, the judge will usually ask both parties to submit parenting plans and choose one, or set terms that incorporate parts of both plans.
Seek Experienced Legal Help Today
For most parents, the welfare of their children is the most important issue when life changes. If you believe that your children would benefit from a change in custody arrangements, it is important that you not try to make that change yourself. Having an Atlanta child custody lawyer on your side can make all the difference, and the dedicated legal professionals at Buckhead Family Law have handled these cases before. Contact our office today at 404-600-1403 to schedule an appointment.