After the initial custody order, legal and physical child custody can be modified if there has been a material change in circumstances that substantially affects the best interests of the children, and this change has occurred since the entry of the initial custody order. Obtaining a modification is usually a matter of filing for a Petition for Modification of Custody in the right court but jurisdiction in custody cases can be very complicated, especially if either parent has moved since the original order was filed.
If you are interested in modifying your child custody then please consult an experienced attorney rather than trying it alone. It can be very confusing without expert legal advice to guide you, as you can see from some of the questions found below.
How do I apply for modification of child custody in Georgia?
It is really just a two step process:
- You have to prove to the court that there has been a substantial change of circumstance
- You have to prove that the modification is in your children’s best interests
How is a “substantial change of circumstance” defined?
There is no specific definition because it is what the judge says it is. It could be anything from a parent remarrying to a sudden drop in a child’s grades. It is important to consult with an expert family lawyer in order to asses whether a substantial change in circumstance has occurred that would merit a modification action.
How does a judge go about deciding what is and isn’t in a child’s best interest?
The judge makes a common sense decision after reviewing your family situation and how it functions. A few of the factors the judge considers are:
- Which parent does the most to care for the child?
- Which parent is most closely bonded with the child?
- Which parent lives in the best school district?
- Who lives closest to the child’s friends?
- Which parent is better able to provide for the child’s needs?
- Which parent is more likely to be nurturing and supportive?
- How do the parents act toward each other and the child?
Can you get visitation modified as well?
Yes, it can be done upon request from either party. The court can also modify visitation on its own without input from the parties involved. To get visitation modified you just have to prove it will be in the child’s best interests.
Can a child be forced to visit a parent when they don’t want to?
Until they are able to drive, the answer is yes in most cases. Judges believe that a child needs both parents in their life even if they don’t enjoy staying with one parent as much as the other.
Will a modification of custody affect child support?
Both child support and custody are usually modified at the same time because they are so closely tied together.
What happens if my spouse and I have agreed that custody will be different than the court’s order?
Legal and physical custody can only be set or changed by court order, even if the spouses have agreed on a different physical or legal custody plan.
Does a judge have to order custody if my spouse and I have already agreed on an arrangement?
No. Judges always prefer for a couple to come to an agreement. The judge will need to review your parenting plan to ensure it is in the child’s best interests but otherwise it is up to you. To make sure the judge will accept your plan, it is strongly advised that you get help from an experienced attorney in order to ensure your parenting plan is one that the court will likely accept.