CHAPTER 9 CHILD CUSTODY PROCEEDINGS

19-9-1. Custody of children; how determined; discretion of court; right of child 14 or over to select custodial parent; consideration of child’s educational needs; when visitation rights may be reviewed; notification of change in residence; application of Article 3 of this chapter.

(a)(1) In all cases in which a divorce is granted, the party not in default shall be entitled to the custody of the minor children of the marriage. However, in all cases in which a divorce is granted, an application for divorce is pending, or a change in custody of a minor child is sought, the court, in the exercise of a sound discretion, may look into all the circumstances of the parties, including improvement of the health of a party seeking a change in custody provisions, and, after hearing both parties, may make a different disposition of the children, placing them, if necessary, in possession of guardians appointed by the judge of the probate court.

(2) In addition to other factors that a court may consider in a proceeding in which the custody of a child or visitation by a parent is at issue and in which the court has made a finding of family violence:

(A) The court shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence;

(B) The court shall consider the perpetrator’s history of causing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or causing reasonable fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault to another person;

(C) If a parent is absent or relocates because of an act of domestic violence by the other parent, such absence or relocation for a reasonable period of time in the circumstances shall not be deemed an abandonment of the child or children for the purposes of custody determination; and

(D) The court shall not refuse to consider relevant or otherwise admissible evidence of acts of family violence merely because there has been no previous finding of family violence. The court may, in addition to other appropriate actions, order supervised visitation pursuant to Code Section 19-9-7.

(3)(A) In all cases in which the child has reached the age of 14 years, the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live. The child’s selection shall be controlling, unless the parent so selected is determined not to be a fit and proper person to have the custody of the child.

(B) In all cases in which the child has reached the age of at least 11 but not 14 years, the court shall consider the desires, if any, and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody. The court shall have complete discretion in making this determination, and the child’s desires are not controlling. The court shall further have broad discretion as to how the child’s desires are to be considered, including through the report of a guardian ad litem. The best interest of the child standard shall be controlling.

(C) The desire of a child who has reached the age of 11 years but not 14 years shall not, in and of itself, constitute a material change of conditions or circumstances in any action seeking a modification or change in the custody of that child.

(D) The court may issue an order granting temporary custody to the selected parent for a trial period not to exceed six months regarding the custody of a child who has reached the age of at least 11 years where the judge hearing the case determines such a temporary order is appropriate.

(b) In any case in which a judgment awarding the custody of a minor has been entered, on the motion of any party or on the motion of the court, that portion of the judgment effecting visitation rights between the parties and their minor children may be subject to review and modification or alteration without the necessity of any showing of a change in any material conditions and circumstances of either party or the minor, provided that the review and modification or alteration shall not be had more often than once in each two-year period following the date of entry of the judgment. However, this subsection shall not limit or restrict the power of the court to enter a judgment relating to the custody of a minor in any new proceeding based upon a showing of a change in any material conditions or circumstances of a party or the minor.

(c)(1) In any case in which a judgment awarding the custody of a minor has been entered, the court entering such judgment shall retain jurisdiction of the case for the purpose of ordering the custodial parent to notify the court of any changes in the residence of the child.

(2) In any case in which visitation rights have been provided to the noncustodial parent and the court orders that the custodial parent provide notice of a change in address of the place for pickup and delivery of the child for visitation, the custodial parent shall notify the noncustodial parent, in writing, of any change in such address. Such written notification shall provide a street address or other description of the new location for pickup and delivery so that the noncustodial parent may exercise such parent’s visitation rights.

(3) Except where otherwise provided by court order, in any case under this subsection in which a parent changes his or her residence, he or she must give notification of such change to the other parent and, if the parent changing residence is the custodial parent, to any other person granted visitation rights under this title or a court order. Such notification shall be given at least 30 days prior to the anticipated change of residence and shall include the full address of the new residence.

(d) In the event of any conflict between this Code section and Article 3 of this chapter, Article 3 shall apply.

19-9-3. Discretion of court in custody disputes; right of child 14 years old or older to select custodial parent; consideration of child’s educational needs; review of visitation rights; grandparent visitation; policy.

(a)(1) In all cases in which the custody of any minor child or children is at issue between the parents, there shall be no prima-facie right to the custody of the child or children in the father or mother.

(2) The court hearing the issue of custody, in exercise of its sound discretion, may take into consideration all the circumstances of the case, including the improvement of the health of the party seeking a change in custody provisions, in determining to whom custody of the child or children should be awarded. The duty of the court in all such cases shall be to exercise its discretion to look to and determine solely what is for the best interest of the child or children and what will best promote their welfare and happiness and to make its award accordingly.

(3) In addition to other factors that a court may consider in a proceeding in which the custody of a child or visitation by a parent is at issue and in which the court has made a finding of family violence:

(A) The court shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence;

(B) The court shall consider the perpetrator’s history of causing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or causing reasonable fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault to another person;

(C) If a parent is absent or relocates because of an act of domestic violence by the other parent, such absence or relocation for a reasonable period of time in the circumstances shall not be deemed an abandonment of the child or children for the purposes of custody determination; and

(D) The court shall not refuse to consider relevant or otherwise admissible evidence of acts of family violence merely because there has been no previous finding of family violence. The court may, in addition to other appropriate actions, order supervised visitation pursuant to Code Section 19-9-7.

(4) In all custody cases in which the child has reached the age of 14 years, the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live. The child’s selection shall be controlling unless the parent so selected is determined not to be a fit and proper person to have the custody of the child.

(4.1) In all custody cases in which the child has reached the age of at least 11 but not 14 years, the court shall consider the desires and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody. The child’s selection shall not be controlling. The best interests of the child standard shall apply.

(5) Joint custody, as defined by Code Section 19-9-6, may be considered as an alternative form of custody by the court. This provision allows a court at any temporary or permanent hearing to grant sole custody, joint custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody where appropriate.

(6) The court is authorized to order a psychological custody evaluation of the family or an independent medical evaluation. In addition to the privilege afforded a witness, neither a court appointed custody evaluator nor a court appointed guardian ad litem shall be subject to civil liability resulting from any act or failure to act in the performance of his or her duties unless such act or failure to act was in bad faith.

(b) In any case in which a judgment awarding the custody of a minor has been entered, on the motion of any party or on the motion of the court, that portion of the judgment effecting visitation rights between the parties and their minor children may be subject to review and modification or alteration without the necessity of any showing of a change in any material conditions and circumstances of either party or the minor, provided that the review and modification or alteration shall not be had more often than once in each two-year period following the date of entry of the judgment. However, this subsection shall not limit or restrict the power of the court to enter a judgment relating to the custody of a minor in any new proceeding based upon a showing of a change in any material conditions or circumstances of a party or the minor.

(c) In the event of any conflict between this Code section and any provision of Article 3 of this chapter, Article 3 shall apply.

(d) It is the express policy of this state to encourage that a minor child has continuing contact with parents and grandparents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their children after such parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

(e) Upon the filing of an action for a change of child custody, the court may in its discretion change the terms of custody on a temporary basis pending final judgment on such issue. Any such award of temporary custody shall not constitute an adjudication of the rights of the parties.

19-9-4. Investigation of abuse, neglect, or other acts which adversely affect health of child in custody disputes; cost.

(a) On motion of either party in any action or proceeding involving determination of the award of child custody between parents of the child, when such motion contains a specific recitation of actual abuse, neglect, or other overt acts which have adversely affected the health and welfare of the child, the court may direct the appropriate family and children services agency or any other appropriate entity to investigate the home life and home environment of each of the parents. In any action or proceeding involving determination of the award of child custody between parents of the child when during such proceedings a specific recitation of actual abuse, neglect, or other overt acts which have adversely affected the health and welfare of the child has been made the court shall also have authority on its own motion to order such an investigation if in the court’s opinion the investigation would be useful in determining placement or custody of the child. The court may also direct either party to pay to the agency the reasonable cost, or any portion thereof, of the investigation. The report of the investigation will be made to the court directing the investigation. Any report made at the direction of the court shall be made available to either or both parties for a reasonable period of time prior to the proceedings at which any temporary or permanent custody is to be determined. Both parties shall have the right to confront and cross-examine the person or persons who conducted the investigation or compiled the report if adequate and legal notice is given.

(b) This Code section shall apply only with respect to actions or proceedings in which the issue of child custody is contested; and this Code section is not intended to alter or repeal Code Sections 49-5-40 through 49-5-44.

19-9-5. Custody agreements; ratification; supplementation.

(a) In all proceedings under this article between parents, it shall be expressly permissible for the parents of a minor child to present to the court an agreement respecting any and all issues concerning custody of the minor child. As used in this Code section, the term "custody" shall include, without limitation, joint custody as such term is defined in Code Section 19-9-6. As used in this Code section, the term "custody" shall not include payment of child support.

(b) The court shall ratify the agreement and make such agreement a part of the court’s final judgment in the proceedings unless the court makes specific written factual findings as a part of the final judgment that under the circumstances of the parents and the child in such agreement that the agreement would not be in the best interests of the child. The court shall not refuse to ratify such agreement and to make such agreement a part of the final judgment based solely upon the parents’ choice to use joint custody as a part of such agreement.

(c) In its judgment, the court may supplement the agreement on issues not covered by such agreement.

19-9-6. Definitions.

As used in this article, the term:

(1) "Joint custody" means joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both joint legal custody and joint physical custody. In making an order for joint custody, the court may order joint legal custody without ordering joint physical custody.

(2) "Joint legal custody" means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child’s education, health care, and religious training; provided, however, that the court may designate one parent to have sole power to make certain decisions while both parents retain equal rights and responsibilities for other decisions.

(3) "Joint physical custody" means that physical custody is shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of substantially equal time and contact with both parents.

(4) "Sole custody" means a person, including, but not limited to, a parent, has been awarded permanent custody of a child by a court order. Unless otherwise provided by court order, the person awarded sole custody of a child shall have the rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child’s education, health care, and religious training, and the noncustodial parent shall have the right to visitation. A person who has not been awarded custody of a child by court order shall not be considered as the sole legal custodian while exercising visitation rights.

19-9-7. Visitation by parent who has committed acts of family violence; conditional orders; confidentiality; joint counseling; conditions for supervised visitation.

(a) A court may award visitation by a parent who committed one or more acts involving family violence only if the court finds that adequate provision for the safety of the child and the parent who is a victim of family violence can be made. In a visitation order, a court may:

(1) Order an exchange of a child to occur in a protected setting;

(2) Order visitation supervised by another person or agency;

(3) Order the perpetrator of family violence to attend and complete, to the satisfaction of the court, a certified family violence intervention program for perpetrators as defined in Article 1A of Chapter 13 of this title as a condition of the visitation;

(4) Order the perpetrator of family violence to abstain from possession or consumption of alcohol, marijuana, or any Schedule I controlled substance listed in Code Section 16-13-25 during the visitation and for 24 hours preceding the visitation;

(5) Order the perpetrator of family violence to pay a fee to defray the costs of supervised visitation;

(6) Prohibit overnight visitation;

(7) Require a bond from the perpetrator of family violence for the return and safety of the child; and

(8) Impose any other condition that is deemed necessary to provide for the safety of the child, the victim of family violence, or another family or household member.

(b) Whether or not visitation is allowed, the court may order the address of the child and the victim of family violence to be kept confidential.

(c) The court shall not order an adult who is a victim of family violence to attend joint counseling with the perpetrator of family violence as a condition of receiving custody of a child or as a condition of visitation.

(d) If a court allows a family or household member to supervise visitation, the court shall establish conditions to be followed during visitation.

SOURCE: DivorceOnline.com