In Georgia, the court strives to maintain a sense of normalcy as much as possible, ensuring stability and consistency for families. However, change is an inevitable part of life, and circumstances can evolve over time. In such situations, modifications of family law orders for child custody and visitation may become necessary to accommodate the best interests of the child and adapt to new circumstances.
This guide aims to provide you with the necessary information on how to navigate the process of modifying child custody and visitation orders in Georgia. It will cover important considerations, legal requirements, and steps involved in seeking modifications, empowering you with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions and protect the well-being of your child.
Grounds for Modifying Child Custody and Visitation Orders
Modifying visitation orders in Georgia generally requires proving that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that impacts the child’s best interests.
This change in circumstances could be changed in a parent’s financial situation, relocation, changes in the child’s needs, or a parent’s inability to adhere to the current custody arrangement.
Here are a few situations where clients might ask about applying Georgia law. These examples show how the court examines, argues, and decides, especially when determining if these cases meet the requirement of showing a significant change in circumstances.
Georgia Factors to Modify Child Support
Change in Income or Financial Status
Significant changes in either parent’s income can be grounds for modification. This includes job loss, substantial pay increases, or decreases.
Example Case: Significant Increase in Non-custodial Parent’s Income
Consider the hypothetical case of Mr. Smith, the non-custodial parent. After the last custody order, Smith received a significant promotion at work, leading to a substantial salary increase. Given this change in Smith’s financial status, Mrs. Jones, the custodial parent, was entitled to request an increase in child support for their child.
Smith’s income increase constitutes a substantial change in circumstances under Georgia law, which would allow a court to revisit an existing child support order. Mrs. Jones could file a petition to modify the child support order, arguing that the increase in Mr. Smith’s income would enable him to contribute more towards their child’s upbringing.
The court, in assessing the child’s best interests, might agree with Mrs. Jones and increase Mr. Smith’s child support obligations. However, the exact outcome would depend on several factors, including the specific details of Mr. Smith’s income change and the current needs of the child.
Change in Child’s Needs
If the child’s needs have significantly changed, such as increased medical expenses, educational costs, or extracurricular activities, this can justify a modification.
Case Example: Medical Condition of a Child
Let’s consider a hypothetical situation where John and Jane, who share joint custody of their son, Timmy, have an existing child support order in place. A few years after the agreement, Timmy developed a rare medical condition requiring expensive, ongoing treatment.
In this scenario, a Georgia court could consider Timmy’s medical condition as a substantial change in circumstances. If John, who is the non-custodial parent, has had an increase in his income, Jane can request the court to modify the child support order to increase the financial support given to Timmy. This would take into account John’s increased ability to pay and the child’s escalated medical expenses, thereby ensuring that Timmy’s best interests are prioritized.
Change in Custodial Arrangements:
A substantial change in the amount of time the child spends with each parent can affect child support amounts.
Case Example: Non-Exercise of Parenting Time
Imagine a situation where Linda and Robert have shared custody of their daughter, Emily. Under the existing child support order, Emily spends 30% of her time with Robert. However, due to personal reasons, Robert hasn’t been exercising his parenting time and Emily ends up spending 100% of her time with Linda for over a year
In this context, Linda could present the case in a Georgia court to request a child custody order modification. She could argue for sole custody. Furthermore, she could argue for an increase in child support, considering now Emily resides exclusively with her and Robert’s financial responsibility towards Emily’s upbringing should reflect this change.
Procedure for Filing a Family Law Modification Request in Georgia
Navigating the process of filing a family law modification request in Georgia can be complex. Whether you’re considering a modification for child support or custody, or if a co-parent has initiated a request, understanding the steps and timeline is crucial. Here’s a simplified breakdown:
Grounds for Modification
Consider consulting with a family law attorney about your specific change in circumstances, such as income, the child’s needs, or custodial arrangements. Your attorney can help you understand what to expect in regard to the outcome and process for your modification.
Getting the Modification Petition Ready
Collect supporting documents (financial statements, medical records, parenting plan) and file a modification petition to the court that issued the original order, clearly stating the reasons for the requested change.
Serving the Other Parent
After filing the petition, serve the other parent with the modification request to ensure their awareness and give them time to prepare a response.
Mediation and Negotiation
Both parties can negotiate and strive to find common ground regarding the modification. In many Georgia counties, mediation is a prerequisite before proceeding to court, where a neutral third party helps both parents reach an agreement.
If negotiations fail, the case will proceed to a court hearing. During the hearing, both parties present their evidence, arguments and may call witnesses or experts to testify.
Judge’s Decision and Order
After considering carefully, the judge delivers a decision that reflects changes to custody or support arrangements in the new order. Once issued, both parties must adhere to the new terms.
The time frame from filing the petition to receiving a court decision can vary significantly, often taking a few months. The court’s schedule, case complexity, and the outcome of mediation can all impact the timeline. The process may be expedited if there is an immediate risk to a child’s well-being.
Common Questions About Child Custody & Visitation in Georgia
When should you consider modifying child support in Georgia?
You should consider modifying child support when there’s a significant change in the financial circumstances of either parent or the needs of the child. This includes scenarios like job loss, a new job with a significantly different salary, or increased costs associated with raising the child.
Can child support be modified due to a change in custody?
Yes, if the custody arrangement changes significantly, such as one parent assuming more custody time, this can be a basis for modifying child support.
How often can child support be modified in Georgia?
Generally, child support orders can be reviewed for modification every two years. However, if there’s a substantial change in circumstances, a modification can be requested earlier.
What Happens If a Parent Does Not Comply With Custody Orders?
If a parent does not comply with custody orders issued by the court, it is considered a serious offense. They could be held in contempt of court, which can result in penalties such as fines or even jail time. It’s also possible that the court may reassess the custody arrangement, potentially leading to changes that could reduce the non-compliant parent’s custody or visitation rights.
How can I request a review for modification of child support?
In Georgia, you can request a review for modification of child support by contacting the Georgia Division of Child Support Services (DCSS). Reviews can be requested every three years or sooner if there has been a significant change in circumstances.
What are the factors considered by Georgia courts in child custody decisions?
Georgia courts prioritize the best interest of the child, considering various factors such as the child’s age, physical and emotional health of both parents, stability of each parent’s home, each parent’s involvement in the child’s life, and the child’s school and community records.
Can a child in Georgia choose which parent to live with?
In Georgia, a child aged 14 or older can express their preference in a custody decision, but the court will still assess whether the chosen arrangement is in the child’s best interest.
Can visitation rights be denied in Georgia?
In Georgia, visitation rights can be denied only if the court determines that visitation with the parent may harm the child. However, the court generally encourages maintaining a relationship with both parents.
Put Our Award-Winning Covington Divorce Attorneys to Work for You
Changing child custody and visitation orders in Georgia requires a close look at significant changes in circumstances and what’s best for the child. It’s a legal process that calls for proper preparation, documentation, and sometimes, help from legal professionals.
Our divorce lawyers in Covington, Georgia are here to help you out. At Petrelli Previtera, we’ve assisted countless individuals in overcoming the challenges with their families.
We aim to listen, guide, and provide support through any family legal matter you’re dealing with.
We can start helping you today. Just give us a call to discuss your case. Our Georgia family lawyers are dedicated to being there for you. Let’s work together to create a brighter future for you and your family.