Custody and visitation are two of the most hotly contested issues in any divorce. Both parents usually want to spend as much time with their children as possible. Fortunately, in Georgia, there is an avenue for changing a custody or visitation order under certain circumstances.
Please note that there is a big difference in requesting a change in visitation (or parenting time) and requesting a change in legal or physical custody. Here are the basics you need to know if you think a change in your current order is warranted.
The visitation schedule, or parenting time, is the arrangement between the custodial and non-custodial parent as to how they will split physical custody of the children. Once the initial custody order is approved, a parent can request a change in the visitation schedule once every two years and sometimes without even having to show a substantial change in circumstances.
The requirements for changing visitation are not as strict as those for a change in custody. If the facts surrounding the petition for a change is properly laid out, it should likely be approved by the court.
In contrast with visitation, the only way the court will consider a change in custody once the original order is approved is if there is a substantial change in circumstances that affects the welfare of the child. A substantial change would be a major event such as a relocation or if the child begins doing poorly in school. Substantial changes can also include negative events such as abuse by a parent, drug or alcohol abuse in the home, or criminal activity by a parent
Remember that the court’s main concern is what is in the best interests of the child, and that will be the main factor in determining whether a change in custody is warranted.
Under Georgia law, when the initial custody order is crafted, a child’s preference for who they want to live with is taken into account depending on their age. If the child is 11 years old or older, the judge will ask them for their preference, but will also consider other factors before deciding on custody. A child 14 years old or older can state a definite preference for which parent they wish to reside with, and as long as it is in the best interests of the child, the judge will lean heavily towards that choice.
As for changing custody, if a child 14 or older wishes to change the custody arrangement, that is considered a substantial change and qualifies for a custody modification. Additionally, in some cases regarding a child’s preference, it is not unusual for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem to evaluate the circumstances and advocate for the best interests of the child in court.
If a parent plans to relocate, that is considered a significant enough change to warrant an examination of the custody order. The court will consider a change in custody as long as it is in the best interests of the child.
Regardless of whether custody is changed or not, any parent planning to move must inform the other parent of their intent to change residence. Georgia law also requires that a parent who is moving notify anyone with visitation privileges at least 30 days before they move and provide a new address.
If a substantial change affecting the welfare of your children is making you consider changing a custody or visitation order, Family Matters Law Group can help. With years of experience in custody cases, we’ve helped many clients modify an existing order to better meet the best interests of their family. Contact us today via phone or online and let us help you fight for your family!