When parents decide to get a divorce or unwed parents have a child, custody agreements get put in place. In Georgia, child custody and visitation orders are always based on the best interests of the child. When evaluating the child’s best interests, parents submit parenting plans to the court, which may include topics such as a parenting schedule, guidelines for co-parenting decision-making, proposal for handling child transportation, and provisions for communication with the child while in the other parent’s care.

Georgia courts do not take changing child custody and visitation lightly, but the court system does take into account changing circumstances that may require child custody modifications (O.C.G.A. §19-9-3).

Requirements for Modifying Child Visitation and Custody

Changes to child visitation or parenting time is different than changing child custody orders. Following the initial entry of judgment, a parent or other party with visitation rights can petition the court to amend visitation or parenting time agreements once every two years. For this type of adjustment, a material change in circumstances is not required.

On the other hand, modification of custody orders can happen at any time following the original order, but must be prompted by significant changes in family circumstances. If the court finds that the changes affect the best interests of the child, a custody modification may be granted.

Common Circumstances for Child Custody Modification

There are many circumstances that can be grounds for the modification of child custody orders, but it requires a material change of condition that substantially affects the interest and welfare of the child. Aside from emergency hearings associated with changes to a parent’s health or mental health, including drug and alcohol addiction, relocation and the child’s age continue to be the most common reasons for child custody modification.

Relocation of the Custodial Parent – Under current Georgia Law, a planned relocation or move of a custodial parent is always sufficient for a child custody modification hearing, regardless of whether that parent has sole or joint custody. The courts will evaluate whether the change impacts the best interests of the child and make the necessary modifications based upon the new circumstances.

Child’s Request to Change Custodial Parents – At the age of 14, children are able to decide which parent they would like to live with, so long as it remains in the best interests of the child. If a child 14 years or older requests such a change, this will automatically be sufficient for a custody re-evaluation. Children as young as 11 years old may offer an opinion on which parent they prefer to live with, but the court will look at the additional circumstances prior to considering the child’s preference.

Legal Representation for Issues of Child Custody Modification

At Andersen, Tate & Carr, our attorneys are dedicated to reaching the best possible outcome for our clients. Our criminal defense attorneys, Patrick McDonough and Trinity Hundredmark, have combined experience of more than 30 years representing clients facing criminal charges in Georgia. For more information, or to request a case evaluation, contact our law office at 1-770-822-0900.