The Equitable Caregivers’ Act
On July 1, 2019, a law went into effect in Georgia that grants the status of “equitable caregiver” to groups of non-biologically related adults who might previously have had no parental rights even if they play a fundamental role in a child’s life. This is being touted as a huge win for grandparents and LGBTQ+ parents, as well as other groups who would previously have had no legal leg to stand on in matters of parentage – however, there will be growing pains as the law is refined and tested. If you have questions about this new legislation, contacting an Atlanta family lawyer is a good idea.
Parental Rights Were Limited In GA
Generally, it can be said that the law favors parents above anyone else, and unless a parent is declared unfit, their right to parent their child cannot be subjugated to anyone else’s. This means that only they held parental rights – other adults who might play major roles in raising a child had no power to make decisions on the child’s behalf, potentially exposing the child to danger or neglect. In addition, they had no right to seek visitation, even though it might demonstrably be in the best interests of the child to allow it.
House Bill 543, now in the law as OCGA 19-7-3.1, holds that if a person can prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that they qualify as an “equitable caregiver” to a child, they are then granted the right to petition the relevant family court for visitation and/or parental rights. This is an important distinction; they are not automatically granted parental rights, only the right to apply for them. Also, such an action is not permitted if the child is living with both parents and the parents are together.
The Best Interests Of The Child Come First
The law establishes that a person must prove they have standing to seek visitation – essentially, they must establish that they qualify as an equitable caregiver. This can be done by showing that they have voluntarily accepted a “permanent, unequivocal, committed and responsible” role in the child’s life, as well as showing that the child would be likely to suffer long-term harm – that is, their best interests would not be served – by the severing of the relationship.
Keep in mind that the best interests of the child are the primary motivation for the court. This means that even if you demonstrate your devotion to the child and your willingness to accept a parental role in their life, the court will deny your petition for parental rights or visitation if it is not in the child’s best interests. The physical, mental, and emotional health of the children of the state of Georgia is a primary factor in the state’s public policy, meaning that if any action would shock the conscience of the reasonable person, it is decidedly not in the child’s best interests.
Contact An Atlanta Family Lawyer
While some legal analysts predict a rise in custody litigation with the passage of this act, it will also be a significant boon to groups such as non-biological LGBTQ+ parents and unmarried romantic partners who have a true attachment to the children in their lives. The Atlanta family lawyers at Buckhead Family Law are ready, willing and able to try and assist equitable caregivers who want to seek parental rights. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.