Can I File for Modification of Child Custody and Contempt in a Different County?

In certain situations it may be necessary to file a case concerning a modification and contempt in a new county other than the original county that may have jurisdiction. This type of situation typically occurs once a parent relocates to a new residential area and the relocation makes it necessary to pursue legal action in the county in which the defending party resides.

In the past it has been necessary under Georgia law to file for child custody, child support, or visitation modifications in the county of the defendant’s current residence and for contempt actions to be brought in the county of the original child custody / divorce decree. This added to complications as the result of the two separate filing requirements would result in two separate cases pending in different counties at the same time. However, since the Georgia Supreme Court Case of Ford v. Hanna (March 4th 2013) this rule of law has changed to allow for filings of both cases to be unified in the same petition.

The ruling of Ford v. Hanna has revolutionized the law concerning these types of petitions by allowing a petitioner to combine the modification and contempt actions in a singular petition which is then filed in the count of the defendants residence – the idea being is that the court in the county of the defendant will have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. For example if a parent needs to file for a modification of visitation and contempt for nonpayment of child support then they may file both actions together in the defendant’s residential county superior court system.

On the other hand major modifications to custody may be more appropriately addressed in the original court of jurisdiction as they will have more familiarity with the case and parties. If a counter petition is filed for a modification of custody then it may be necessary to consider a change in venue back to the original court of jurisdiction to handle the modification issues. In the case of Colbert v. Colbert (2013) in the Supreme Court of Georgia it was found in an appeal case that the mother lost her appeal to the court decision which reversed custody to the non-custodial parent after the non-custodial parent counter claimed for modification of custody in his county – the county in which the mother initially filed. The Georgia Supreme Court found in this case that although the court may have not had enough background information on the case to establish a ruling with former precedence that the case could not be overturned, due to the fact that the mother failed to object to the jurisdiction of the court to hear the responsive modification of custody. The court therefore believed that the defendants responsive petition could have been moved at the request of the mother at any time before or during the court proceeding as the proper jurisdiction can be and typically is located in the county in which the child resides.

If it is believed that the jurisdiction of your case may come into question or is complicated it is necessary to consult with a family law attorney. A family law attorney will be able to establish the court that should have proper jurisdiction over your case and how to handle or relocate any other responsive motions to more appropriate venues with jurisdiction. Furthermore, if a mistake is made concerning jurisdiction it could have un-reversible consequences on your case which could have been prevented by a request of a change of venue. If you find yourself facing the filing of a contempt or modification action involving alimony, child support, custody or any other family law related matter, call us at 770-609-1247 to discuss your situation with an experienced Georgia divorce and family law attorney.