When the divorce is final, parents hope to move forward smoothly with a custody plan and parenting schedule in place. But circumstances can change. While it may seem like the emotional rollercoaster will never end, it can be comforting to know that when custody issues arise after divorce they can be managed with the help of your attorney.
Atlanta divorce attorney Pete Chambers notes, “Changes to the custody plan don’t have to be traumatic for parents or children. We encourage divorced parents to keep lines of communication open to avoid unnecessary drama.”
Most Common Custody Issues
Child Custody Modification
The best interest of the child is always the priority and key factor when judges are deciding custody matters. But judges will consider modifications to custody under a few circumstances further explored below:
- Relocation of a parent (depending on other facts and circumstances impacted by the relocation)
- Significant or frequent violations of the existing custody order
- Withholding Information about the child
- Failure of one parent to consult on major issues regarding the child
- Parental alienation (one parent trying to alienate the child against the other parent)
- Election by the child at age 14 to change primary custody
Before a judge will consider modifying custody or visitation, the parent who’s requesting a change must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances that impacts the welfare or best interest of the child. If the judge agrees to review the case, the parent will also have to show that the existing order no longer serves the child’s best interests.
Moving to another city or state is often the most common reason warranting a request to change the custody plan. This can occur when one parent needs to relocate for employment or can be the result of remarriage or other changes in family life. However, relocation alone is not grounds to sustain a modification of custody. There must be contributing factors that are caused by the relocation which impact the child or are not in the child’s best interests.
It’s important to understand that if a parent wants to up and move away with their child, depending on additional circumstance and facts, the other parent has a right to petition the court to change primary custody.
“Under Georgia law, any parent planning to relocate must notify the other parent at least 30 days before the planned move.”
Parents can agree on a new custody plan and petition the court for approval, however, their agreement is still subject to the court’s scrutiny and approval. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, then a judge will decide by looking closely and determining what is in the child’s best interest.
In one study reported by the American Psychological Association, long distance parental moves (more than an hour’s drive away) showed significant negative effects for the child, as compared with divorced families in which neither parent moved away beyond an hour’s drive.
Since it is the court’s obligation to consider what is in the child’s best interest, including their physical and mental well-being, the judge has the right to transfer primary custody to the non-relocating parent.
The judge overseeing the case will consider reasons for the relocation, how the current parenting plan will be affected, and/or the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent.
However, if one parent wants to relocate, then the non-relocating parent can petition the court to change the parenting schedule or visitation schedule without the need for the non-relocating parent to show a substantial change in condition. The parent may request a new parenting schedule/visitation, to accommodate the distance, since a frequent schedule will no longer work due to the distance.
Also, if the non-relocating parent is paying child support, they can petition the court to modify their obligation to accommodate their travel expenses caused by the move to facilitate their exercising the new parenting schedule, or the court can require the relocating parent to be responsible for some of the travel expenses that the non-relocating parent incurs due to the move.
If one parent purposely refuses the other parent opportunities to speak by phone or to spend time with their child as outlined in the parenting plan, the court can become involved.
Withholding parenting time for a reason not outlined in the parenting plan can result in the parent being held in contempt of court, resulting in fines, and/or jail time, and being required to pay attorney fees to the other attorney.
This can be tricky when it comes to extended family members. In Georgia, grandparents may file a petition seeking visitation in any custody action, including cases involving divorce, termination of parental rights, and adoption.
Other visitation challenges might include one parent being chronically late to pick up or drop off the kids.
Withholding Important Information
In some situations, one parent may withhold information, like medical or educational details, from the other parent. If both parents share legal custody of the child, the court can become involved to enforce full disclosure of this important information.
Parents may not always agree on how their child is to be raised regarding religion, education, extracurricular activities, medical decisions, or any number of other lifestyle choices. When these create a significant conflict, mediation and/or the court can become involved to resolve the issues.
In Georgia, children 14 years of age and older can choose which parent they want to live with but cannot switch back and forth more than every two years. A teenager’s wishes will prevail unless the judge specifically finds that it wouldn’t be in the child’s best interests to live with the parent.
For younger children, between the ages of 11 and 14, judges will take their wishes and educational needs into consideration. But their preferences won’t carry the same weight or legal effect as with children 14 and older, and judges have full latitude to decide what is best for the child.
What Should You Do Now?
Your divorce attorney should be well versed in how to handle custody issues. An experienced Atlanta family law attorney, like those at Chambers Family Law, can thoughtfully help you determine if a modification to your child custody or parenting schedule plan is warranted.
In tough child custody cases, particularly if there is any sign of physical or emotional abuse, your attorney can help request a child custody evaluation or a Guardian ad Litem to investigate and help the judge confirm your concerns and decide what is in your child’s best interests.
Chambers Family Law attorneys are experienced and equipped to successfully provide non-judgmental, compassionate, and invaluable assistance when child custody issues arise. Speak to a Chambers Family Law attorney right now at 404-795-5090.