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Modification of Child Custody and Visitation in Georgia

During the divorce process child custody can be one of the most contentious issues either parent may face. Often neither parent is happy to give up time with his or her child. Thankfully if a substantial change in a parent’s or a child’s life occur the child custody order can be changed.

Modifying visitation or parenting time

In Georgia there is a difference in requirements when a parent may request a change in visitation or parenting time and when a parent may request a change to the child custody order. The child custody order reflects the legal and physical custody of both parents and contains parenting time. Parenting time is the plan that outlines how the custodial parent will share physical custody with the non-custodial parent. A parent may ask the court to modify visitation or parenting time once every two years after the initial child custody order was entered. A parent who appropriately requests a visitation modification does not have to demonstrate a change in circumstances.

Modifying custody order

In comparison, a parent may request a change in the child custody order only when a significant change in family circumstances has occurred since the entry of the original order. A significant change is usually defined as a major life event such as a parent having to relocate for a new job or a parent who remarries. Significant changes in family circumstances also include the abuse of drugs or alcohol by a parent, parental abuse or criminal activity of parent. Therefore, when reviewing a request to modify a child custody order the court also considers whether the best interests of the child require a change in custody.

When it specifically comes to a parent’s plan to change residences, a court in Georgia will always hear a request for child custody modification. Under past law, the court would generally approve a custodial parent’s relocation with a child unless the other parent was able to demonstrate the move would be harmful to the child. Under current Georgia law, a parent’s plan to relocate is always a sufficient reason for a modification hearing. During the hearing the court will decide whether the best interests of the child require a change in child custody given the change in circumstances. In addition, parents must inform each other of any planned change in residence, and if the custodial parent plans to move he or she must give anyone with visitation rights at least 30 days notice before the move and provide the new address.

Child’s age can impact modification request

Children of a certain age in Georgia may choose which parent they wish to live with when the initial custody order is created. A child age 14 or older has the ability to request a change of custodial parent, and such a request qualifies as circumstances for a custody re-evaluation. The judge will heavily consider the child’s preference, but will evaluate whether the request to live with the other parent is in the best interests of the child. A child who is at least age 11 may also state a preference of which parent to live with; however, the judge will review the entirety of the circumstances before deciding. A guardian ad litem may sometimes be appointed by the court to represent the child interests in such modification requests.

If significant life changes have occurred that you believe may warrant a review of your child custody agreement or if you want to preserve the rights outlined in your agreement, contact an experienced family law attorney who can help you with your custody goals.