When parents in Georgia divorce, a child custody order will be established. In some cases, one parent is awarded sole physical custody and the other parents is awarded visitation time. In other cases, each parent is awarded joint physical custody. In addition, parents may be awarded either sole or joint legal custody, which gives them the right to make key life decisions on behalf of the child. Ultimately, the child custody arrangements awarded will be determined based on the best interests of the child.
Of course, life is rarely static. A parent may get a new job that interferes with their custody time, a custodial parent might relocate in a way that affects the noncustodial parent’s visitation time or it may simply be the case that the needs of the child have changed as the child gets older. In these situations, and many others, one parent may wish to pursue a child custody modification.
If a parent wants an existing child custody order modified, there must be a substantial change that affects the welfare and best interests of the child. When modifying a child custody order, the court can either award sole custody or joint legal custody and/or sole or joint physical custody. If the child is at least 11 years old but is under 14 years old, their preference may be considered, but does not constitute a material change of circumstances. If a child is 14 years old or older, their preference will be controlling unless a parent is unfit.
If the noncustodial parent is seeking a modification, they must do so in the county where the custodial parent resides. If the custodial parent is seeking a modification, they must do so in the county where the noncustodial parent resides. If the custodial parent lives in a different state than the noncustodial parent, the court in which the complaint must be brought is based on the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The UCCJEA is a complex law, so parents in such situations may benefit from having legal representation.
This is only a brief overview of child custody modifications in Georgia and is not intended to be legal advice. Ultimately, parents who feel an existing child custody order needs to be changed will want to seek the help they need to meet all the legal requirements for filing such a claim, as well as understand what their options are and the possible outcomes of their claim.