When a couple in Georgia goes through a divorce, child custody – commonly also referred to as parenting time – is typically an issue that is addressed during the divorce proceedings. A Georgia court will generally grant parenting time and custody based on its determination of what is in the best interest of the child or children. Sometimes, however, what is in the child or children’s best interest changes as time passes. Whether the child, one parent or both parents have experienced a life change, it may be necessary to revisit the initial child custody arrangement. In Georgia, it is possible to modify a child custody arrangement in a relatively streamlined way if the circumstances are just right.
Decision-Making Authority Is Key
Under Georgia law, two types of custody are recognized: legal and physical. These types of custody may be granted solely – or to just one parent – or jointly – to both parents equally. While the general public typically confuses legal custody with visitation rights, these two are markedly different under the eyes of the law. The former is defined as the care, control, and maintenance of a child. The latter, on the other hand, is the opportunity to visit with the child. While both of these are important to divorce or divorcing parents in Georgia, the parent who has legal custody has the authority to make legal decisions on behalf of the child and has overall authority for the child’s health and well-being. Simply put, legal custody overrides physical custody.
Unlike some states in the nation, Georgia law does not have a formal presumption in favor of either the mother or the father of a child when it comes to legal and physical custody. Indeed, a Georgia court will make its decision on both these issues on a case-by-case basis depending on the specific facts of that particular divorce. In short, either parent is assumed to be capable to manage the child-rearing if factors result in a determination of that parent having legal custody of the child. Overall, a Georgia court will make its custody determination based solely on the best interest of the child. If the child is over the age of 14, however, he or she does have the right to choose who will have physical custody unless the court deems this choice against the child’s own best interests.
Modifying an Existing Child Custody Order
Many custody petitions seeking modification are often denied or tossed out by a Georgia court because often times the petitioners confuse physical custody with legal custody. If a parent in Carrollton wishes to seek a change in legal custody of his or her child or children, that parent bears the burden of showing a Georgia court that there has been a material change of condition which has the potential to substantially affect their welfare. This may include changes of scenarios, such as a parent becoming newly disabled, a significant financial change, or co-parent issues like addiction or abuse. While a Georgia court has the discretion – or absolute right – to approve or deny a request for custody modification, if the best interest of the child is at issue the petition is generally granted.
Beyond submitting a petition for a change in custody, the petitioning party must also provide a Georgia court with a new parenting plan that supports the modification request. Simply put, a parenting plan is an agreement between the parents on how the children will be parented post-divorce. A parenting plan is required in every Carrollton, Georgia divorce. Accordingly, the former spouse or co-parent of the petitioning parent must sign off on the modification request provided to the court, except in rare circumstances.