Atlanta, GA Child Custody Modification Lawyer

Making child custody arrangements requires you and your co-parent to imagine how your children will respond to their parents being in separate homes. You also must anticipate how you and your co-parent will manage work responsibilities and caring for your children separately. The younger the children are when you separate, the more difficult it can be to make the right assumptions. As families and children change and grow, so do their needs. As a result, the child custody agreement that you formed during your divorce may no longer benefit your family’s situation.

Sometimes a custody agreement does not work because it is impractical. In other cases, changes in a child’s needs or a parent’s responsibilities render it unworkable. Maybe your teenager has decided they want to live with the other parent. Whatever the reason, sometimes your family needs to make changes to the original custody agreement.

Custody arrangements are court-ordered and court-enforceable, which means you cannot just change them at will. An Atlanta, GA child custody modification lawyer can help you and your co-parent draft changes, incorporate them into your plan, and submit them to the Georgia courts for approval. Call our firm to learn more about working with a dedicated family and divorce attorney.

Legal Custody Versus Physical Custody

Physical custody and legal custody are two separate terms under state law. According to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated §19-9-41(14), physical custody is the supervision and physical care of a child.

Conversely, having legal custody grants a parent the right to make significant, long-term choices for their children. Additionally, a parent who lacks legal custody can still make some decisions for their kids’ welfare when they are in their physical custody.

Furthermore, parents who are allowed to spend time with their children may have physical custody of them only on certain days. They would be authorized to make emergency decisions for the care and health of their kids while they are with them. Having physical custody also implies that a parent can make day-to-day decisions about food, playtime, and bedtime while their children are in their care.

Proving the Need to Change Custody Arrangements

When a parent wants to modify their custody arrangement, they must demonstrate that a substantial change in circumstances warrants doing so. This is the case even if both parents agree to altering the original agreement.

A substantial change in circumstances must be a significant life event or development, not a matter of inconvenience or preference. Some examples include:

  • A parent developing a physical or mental illness that prevents them from providing responsible care;
  • A parent becoming involved in criminal activity or is incarcerated;
  • A parent losing a home due to financial reasons or an event like a fire;
  • A parent developing a substance abuse issue that renders their home unsafe;
  • Changes in a child’s mental, physical, educational, or emotional needs are better met by the non-custodial parent;
  • A parent entering a relationship with an unsuitable person, such as a registered sex offender;
  • A parent remarries;
  • A parent wants to relocate.

Additionally, the Official Code of Georgia § 19-9-3 gives a child aged 14 the right to sign an affidavit stating their preference to live primarily with the parent of their choice.  This is not an automatic change, but does allow the Court to take that preference into consideration.

If one parent seeks a change in custody over the other’s objection, Georgia family courts will hold a hearing. An Atlanta custody modification attorney can represent you and ensure the judge understands your point of view. When the parents agree on the change in custody arrangements, the judge might review the revised plan and approve it without a hearing, or they might wish to question you about the proposed change to ensure it is in the children’s best interests.

Demonstrating the Change is in the Children’s Best Interests

Every decision a judge makes that directly impacts a child must be in the child’s best interests. Parents who want to change their custody order must prove that a new plan serves the children’s interests better.

When considering whether a custody modification serves the children, the judge will examine the quality of the relationships between each parent and each child. They will also look at which parent is best positioned to meet the child’s current needs. The judge also considers the impact the proposed change could have on each child’s other important connections like extended family, siblings, friends, school, and activities.

If the judge agrees the change is justified and supports the children, the family court will issue a revised custody order which is fully enforceable. If the judge is not convinced a modification serves the children’s best interests, Georgia courts could propose a different modification or keep the original order. An Atlanta attorney can help parents prove that their custody modification goals are in the children’s best interests.

Modifications Requested by Children

Georgia courts let older children weigh in on how a child custody modification should be formed. Alternatively, kids might also request that no changes be made, and the court could deem that consistency is most appropriate.

After a child reaches the age of 14, O.C.G.A. §19-9-3(a)(5) allows them to decide on the parent with whom they want to primarily live. However, a judge might deny their request if they believe that their decision is not in their best interests.

After children turn 11, they can begin to participate in child custody proceedings, as family courts can order temporary custody of a young person. Accordingly, kids of this age may request that the court alter their current custody order. A seasoned attorney in Georgia would have experience with changes to a parenting plan initiated by a young person.

Contact an Atlanta, GA Child Custody Modification Attorney Today

If you or your co-parent believes you need to change your custody arrangements, our firm can help you seek a modification. A family court must approve the change, so having qualified legal representation is essential to having the best possible outcome.

If you are in need of an altered parenting plan that better suits your circumstances, contact a skilled legal professional for help. An adept Atlanta, GA child custody modification lawyer can file a petition with the court so that you can have a new parenting time decree. Reach out to our intake team today to learn more about your options.

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