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Restrictions on third-party visitation look back, not forward

The results of child custody cases create the perception that factors considered weigh in favor of female custody. Data over several years, however, reveal that both mothers and fathers confront the challenges of physical and legal custody of their children with increasingly less lopsided numbers. For example, the number of custodial fathers has grown nearly ten times since the 1960s to 2.5 million. Despite this trend, fathers often find themselves to be the non-custodial parent.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a non-custodial father involves visitation. A study in 2018 found that Georgia ranked 46th with an average of 23.5%. In addition, more than 18% of custodial fathers remarried in 2017. Despite these numbers, a recent court case shows how the law in Georgia balances the interests of those who share joint legal custody.

 Standard: adverse effects on the child

A couple married in 2011 and had a son in 2018. The father began an affair with his sister-in-law, whom he subsequently married and with whom he had a child. According to the terms of the divorce in 2020, a settlement agreement incorporated a parenting plan that restricted visitation between the child and new wife.

The trial court granted the mother’s request to prohibit contact between the child and the new wife. The court cited two factors: the father’s deep character flaws and his new wife’s poor judgment and behavior. On appeal, the father argued that the court abused its discretion to prohibit contact since the mother had not provided evidence that contact would adversely impact the child.

Parents actions do not determine the child’s needs

The appeals court ruled in the father’s favor. The court noted that the trial court based its determination that the child would experience, rather than had experienced, adverse effects against its best interests in the presence of the father’s new wife. Visitation, primarily, concerns “the needs of the child, not the faults of the parents.” The mother admitted the child had had contact with the new wife prior to the affair and had no concerns at that time.

Every child custody case demands a balance of interests between both parents and the child. Changing circumstances, both professional and personal, may require a new legal determination regarding issues such as visitation. An attorney with experience can offer guidance.