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Modifying a child custody order in a Georgia divorce

Georgia parents who have endured a divorce involving minor children are tempted to view the entry of the final order as the last nail in a house built by stress and anger. Unfortunately, life is never certain, and the assumptions that underlie even the most carefully formed order for child custody can change.

One spouse may want to move to another city to accept a better-paying job or the other spouse may experience an unexpected health crisis that can impose unanticipated medical expenses. In such cases, one or even both parents may want to alter the terms of their child custody arrangement. How can that be accomplished?

The basics

The person seeking the change in the terms of custody must first of all demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances in the life that either parent or the child that justifies a change in the custody arrangement. This proof must be presented to a district judge in the court that heard the original divorce case. If the court agrees that the motion is based on competent proof of a substantial change in circumstances, the court must essentially make the same determination that was used in crafting the original custody order.

The best interests of the child

After determining that a substantial change in circumstances justifies consideration of altering the original divorce order, the court may consider any facts that bear upon determining what modification, if any, will serve the best interests of the child.

The factors the judge may consider include the following:

  • The love and bonding between the parent and the child
  • The love and emotional bonding between the child and its siblings
  • The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love and guidance
  • Each parent’s knowledge of and familiarity with the child
  • The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs and other kinds of basic care
  • The mental and physical health of each parent, except to the extent provided in Code Section 30-4-5 and paragraph (3) of subsection (a) of Code Section 19-9-3 and such factors as provided in Code Section 15-11-26
  • Each parent’s employment schedule and flexibility

In addition to this list (which is not complete), the judge may consider any factor that may affect the welfare of the child.

Legal assistance and support

Because most post-judgment motions to modify an order from the original trial must be heard by a judge, anyone considering such a motion might wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for assistance in compiling evidence and making a convincing presentation to the judge.