Child Custody Modification Basics

Facing a child custody modification issue? Now is not the time to sit on your rights and gamble away your child’s life. Now is the time to take an action that will serve the “best interest” of your child. “Best Interest of Child” Standard is the common standard used when determining the basis for custody and parenting orders.

Different Requirements for Modifying Visitation and Custody

A Court can generally modify a visitation or parenting time once in each two (2) year period following an initial entry of judgment without the show of change in circumstances.  Child Custody Modification can be allowed on the basis that significant change in family circumstances has taken place since the original order. If the change impacts the best interest of the child, Court will likely find the Custody modification to be appropriate. The parent requesting the custody change is required to submit a new proposed parenting plan to the court.  See O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3

Factors constituting Changed Circumstances

1. Relocation of Custodial Parent

Child custody may be modified if a custodial parent plans to move to a new residence. Under Georgia law, custodial parent may be allowed to move with a child unless non-custodial parent can show that the move will be detrimental to the child.

If the custodial parent plans to change the residence, non-custodial parent must be informed of any planned change in the residence. Under Georgia law, a custodial parent must give anyone with visitation rights or court-ordered parenting time at least 30 days advanced notice before planning a move. Lastly, in addition to the 30 days advanced notice, full address of new residence should be provided to the non-custodial parent.

2. Child’s Request to Change Custodial Parent

In Georgia, if a child is 14 years or older, he/she may choose the parent to live with. Judge is likely to honor that decision as long as it is in the child’s best interest. If the child is over 14, and requests a change in custodial parent, that will automatically be sufficient change of circumstances for custody re-evaluation. Judge gives consideration to child’s wishes, but has the discretion to evaluate other factors relating to the best interest of child standard.

If a child is at least 11 years old, the child may have discretion to choose which parent to live with, however the judge will review the overall circumstances closely. In some cases, Court is likely to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), a neutral third party to represent the child and assist the judge in making a decision as to custodial preference. The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is likely to monitor child’s environment: home, school etc.

A judge has the discretion to grant temporary change of custody for period of 6 months if the child is between ages 11-14. If a child has an older sibling and wishes to accompany that sibling, to preserve family unity, judge is likely to honor a request for a change in custodial parent. Parent may also request a judge to modify custody orders for younger kids on the basis that an older child has requested change in custody.

If non-custodial parent can meet its burden in proving that custodial parent has become unfit or unable to take care of a child, custody modification may be granted. Furthermore, if the situation is serious as in custodial parent has mental illness or drug dependency and this will affect child’s safety, custody modification may be granted.

Process to modify child custody can be very complex. A child needs affection of both parents. When it comes to modifying child custody, it can be a roller coaster ride. Therefore, it is advised to consult your local family law attorney with any questions or concerns you may have.