These frequently asked questions explain your options for changing an established custody or visitation agreement.
Under what circumstances can custody and visitation orders be changed within the state where they were obtained?
After a final decree of divorce or other order establishing custody and visitation (such as a paternity decree) is filed with a court, parents may agree to modify the custody or visitation terms. This modified agreement (also called a "stipulated modification") may be made without court approval. If one parent later reneges on the agreement, however, the other person may not be able to enforce it unless the court has approved the modification. Thus, it is generally advisable to obtain a court’s blessing before relying on such agreements. Courts usually approve modification agreements unless it appears that they are not in the best interests of the child.
If a parent wants to change an existing court order and the other parent won’t agree to the change, he or she must file a motion (a written request) asking the court that issued the order to modify it. Usually, courts will modify an existing order only if the parent asking for the change can show a "substantial change in circumstances." This requirement encourages stability of arrangements and helps prevent the court from becoming overburdened with frequent and repetitive modification requests.
What qualifies as a substantial change in circumstances?
Here are some examples:
Geographic move. If a custodial parent makes a significant move, or the move will seriously disrupt the stability of the child’s life, the move may constitute a changed circumstance that justifies the court’s modification of a custody or visitation order. Some courts switch custody from one parent to the other, although the increasingly common approach is to ask the parents to work out a plan under which both parents may continue to have significant contacts with their children. If no agreement is reached, courts in some states will permit the move unless it is shown that the child will be adversely affected. In other states, courts will carefully examine the best interests of the child and make a decision about which parent should have custody.
Change in lifestyle. Changes in custody or visitation orders may be obtained if substantial changes in a parent’s lifestyle threatens or harms the child. If, for example, a custodial parent begins working at night and leaving a nine-year-old child alone, the other parent may request a change in custody. Similarly, if a noncustodial parent begins drinking heavily or taking drugs, the custodial parent may file a request for modification of the visitation order (asking, for example, that visits occur when the parent is sober, or in the presence of another adult). What constitutes a lifestyle sufficiently detrimental to warrant a change in custody or visitation rights varies tremendously depending on the state and the particular judge deciding the case.
SOURCE: Georgia Divorce Online
The New Year will bring several new laws to Georgia including more changes to the state’s rules for divorcing parents. The new law streamlines the process for determining child custody because the bill’s sponsors said our old laws often trapped kids in traumatic legal battles.
Representative Judy Manning (R) chairs the House Children and Youth Committee. She and other sponsors of the new law said they’d heard from parents of kids stuck in custody fights that never seemed to end.
So, the 2007 legislature passed some changes.
One requires each parent in a custody contest to file a parenting plan with the court. The hope is the judge could then get both parents to sit down and agree on a final plan; so mom and dad won’t fight to pile up hours with the kids, just to win custody from a judge who doesn’t know their individual lives.
“The idea that you can count the hours that you had with your child was really too tight for the parents. It got to be too personal, and too much of a squabble,” Manning said.
Other parts of the new law:
Judges can award attorney’s fees. That’s supposed to keep wealthier parents from using constant challenges as a weapon.
Parents can further streamline the process by agreeing to use binding arbitration instead of the courts.
Kids 14 and over can no longer be the sole deciders of which parent’s house they’ll call home.
“Sometimes it became part of a bidding war, where one parent would promise a car or a computer or a cell phone or whatever,” Manning said.
Two years ago, there was a huge fight over how to divvy up money between so-called first and second families. But, this law – to shorten the pain for all kids – passed both the House and Senate with just one no vote.
The new law also requires courts to keep track of how many custody fights they handle. Up to now, lawmakers and judges haven’t been able to get good statistics on how many kids are affected by custody battles.
The video of the broadcast of this report is here.
SOURCE: WXIA (11Alive.com) by Denis O’Hayer
Reposting of Links to Articles on HB 369
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Public Policy Statement
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Appeals
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Parenting Plans
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Arbitration in Custody Cases
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: No Presumptions in Favor of Either Parent or Form of Custody
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Best Interest Standard
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Additional Custody Factors for Family Violence Cases
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Fourteen Year Old Election
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Custodial Preferences of 11 to 14 Year Old Children
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Custody Evaluators and Guardians ad Litem
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Requirements for Relocation and Chages of Addresses of Parents and Children
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Attorney’s Fees
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Home Studies by DFCS
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Custody Agreements
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Extracurricular Activities Included in Joint Legal Custody Decisions
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Permissible Parenting Time Provisions in Family Violence Cases
An Analysis of Georgia House Bill 369: Effective Date
Whatever disadvantages there may be to sitting down with your soon-to-be ex-spouse to work out a parenting plan there is one undeniable truth to keep you at the table: You two are the only people who truly know your children, their needs, the demands of all of your schedules and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each parent. By working together to make a plan that fits both your lives, you avoid a court’s cookie-cutter solutions. Hopefully, you also create a new framework for the active participation by each of you in the care and raising of your children. Remember, statistics show that parents who prepare a plan jointly are 80% more likely to comply with it than if a plan is imposed upon them by a third party. An experienced family law attorney can help you create a plan that is right for you and your family.
To make a parenting plan that works, family and divorce experts recommend crafting a plant that is both specific and flexible. You should create a workable system for dividing responsibilities so that the plan can work whether parents get along well or not. You can rotate primary responsibilities or you can agree to delegations when you agree that one parent has an issue covered. Be sure to include terms requiring each parent to treat each other with respect in front of the children or when they can overhear conversations. Determine how future conflicts will be resolved and build in periods of review and adjustment-usually after the first year and then every two or three years thereafter.
Items that should be included in every parenting plan include:
- Visitation/Shared Parenting Schedules
- Use a regular calendar and a school calendar to plan for and anticipate school breaks and holidays, summer vacations and weekend start and stops.
- Define when holidays start and end.
- Remember to include days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day and birthdays.
- Create a formula for anticipatable events that will work for the first one to two years of the plan’s life.
- Don’t forget to include drop-off and pick-up times and locations.
- Access for both parents to medical and school records, teachers and activities
- Make sure both parents have the right to make emergency medical decisions.
- Child support payments and inclusions
- Include what is covered and who gets the tax deductions.
- Designate whether payment will be made directly or through state support divisions.
- Make sure the paying spouse has adequate life insurance to cover support obligations in case of a sudden death.
- Designate which parent is responsible for costs associated with children’s ongoing medical and dental insurance and related expenses.
- Don’t forget childcare, education and extra-curricular activity expenses and whether they will be paid directly to the provider.
- Address how you will deal with delinquent payments.
- Travel details and expenses when parents live in different states
- Be specific if there are age-related travel concerns or other requirements.
- State any restriction on domestic or international travel.
- Changes and Notifications
- Draft a set of rules for how you will deal with changes like special events or unanticipated business travel.
- Set up a system that gives the other parent notice on a considerate basis when making long term plans or changes in address, telephone number or employment.
- Include notice provisions for school activities, events, and conferences.
- Establish how notice will be given of new childcare providers, children’s location during visitation and new relationships or people present during time with children.
And Don’t Forget….
Parents end up back in court when they fail to plan for events in the future. Make sure your parenting plan contains provisions that address:
- Future moves to different states
- Elective medical/dental procedures like orthodontics
- Impact of loss of employment or disability
- Methods and timeline for child support review
- College selection and expenses
- Adjusting visitation based on children’s ages
To ensure you have adequately addressed all appropriate custody issues, you should review your parenting plan with an experienced family law attorney prior to agreeing to a final version or having it entered as an order by the court.
The one thing divorce doesn’t change is your status as your child’s parent. Whether you have a traditional visitation schedule or a flexible co-parenting plan, or whether your plan is temporary or permanent, you can make the time spent with your children as happy and productive as possible. When questions regarding custody and visitation arise, an experienced family law attorney is the best source for competent counsel.
- Balance flexibility and promptness. Try to be on time when children are being picked up and when children are being returned. It shows you respect your former spouse and your kids, and lets them know visitation is a priority to you. That said, being flexible about traffic, play dates and sick kids makes the time you spend with your children more like real life and less like something that is different from the rest of their lives. It also eases stress around transitions for your children.
- Make visitation time parenting time. Resist the impulse to be a Disney Dad or a Merry Mom by cramming your time full of treats, outings and special events. Don’t over schedule your child. Your kids need time to just be with you and to talk with you where you can really listen. Kids like rules and having reasonable responsibilities during their time with you makes your space feel more like home.
- Make your home their home. Kids need a place in your place and friends where they go. Get to know your neighbors and help your children make friends. Set a schedule so your children know what to expect. Use checklists or separate sets to make sure they have what they need in both places they live.
- Make age appropriate schedules. Toddlers and teenagers have different needs. Do the research and make sure your visitation schedule or parenting plan is meeting the emotional needs of your child’s current developmental stage.
- Include extended family. Try and fit in visits to grandparents and other extended family so your child stays in touch.
- Respect your Ex. Let them know about changes in your scheduling, travel plans, or if new babysitters or romantic interests will be with your kids while they are with you. Communicate where you will be while you have the kids and how emergencies should be handled.
- Seek experienced counsel from a family law attorney if you need legal advice or representation on any custody or visitation issue.
- Don’t make love equal money. You should support your child’s time with their other parent and it should never be about whether or not support has been paid. Equating time with money makes your kids feel like they are worth exactly as much as the support you receive.
- Don’t let divorce emotions spill out during visitation transitions. Don’t fight in front of the kids. Don’t use guilt or make your kids feel bad about enjoying being with their other parent. Make every effort to be polite to each other when the kids are around or when they can hear you.
- Don’t make your kids arrange their own visitation. Setting schedules is an adult responsibility you need to do for your child.
- Don’t make kids be emotional mules. Don’t ask you kids to carry messages to your ex, don’t ask them to spy and don’t subject them to the third degree about every detail of time spent away with the other parent when they are with you.
- Don’t take your child’s side in their disagreements with the other parent. Let your children know they need to resolve problems with their other parent independently and don’t let them pull you into the middle of their dispute, unless you believe they are in danger or you have serious concerns.
- Don’t allow your child to manipulate visitation. Unless your child is under five, children must understand that visitation is not optional. Children under five are often resistant to visitation switches and need some extra understanding. At any age, if visitation resistance persists both parents need to support seeking professional help to address the issue.
- Don’t feel like you have to handle it all yourself. Experienced family law attorneys are available to support you in stressful times and have the expertise to help you reach the best possible resolution of your custody and visitation issues.
At this time of year, and at other times just before holidays and vacation times, it is not unusual to have conflict between parents over visitation/access with the children. A variety of circumstances can lead to the problems:
- Sometimes the existing court orders are a little vague.
- Sometimes the parents have been doing things by agreement a certain way and one of the parents decides to change things.
- Sometimes there is a special event that comes up that doesn’t fit into the order or how the parents had been sharing.
- Sometimes one parent gets mad at the other and starts to use the kids as a weapon.
- Sometimes other family members interfere and create problems.
- Sometimes a work schedule or financial issues create a need to change visitation.
- Sometimes an outside opportunity comes up from school, church, friends, relatives, Scouts or other sources.
- And on and on. For any number of reasons, conflict can arise and really cause problems at holiday time.
What can be done? Here are some ideas.
1. Prevention is the best approach, if possible. Continually working and communicating with each other can help avoid major problems.
- Parents should talk early and often so they can avoid unpleasant surprises, hurt feelings and conflict. Discussing plans far in advance can help issues be resolved early or just not even become problems.
- Establishing a pattern and history of cooperation not only makes it easier to avoid conflict, but also makes it easier to deal with problems if they arise. If one parent has regularly shown a willingness to cooperate over a period of time, the other parent will probably be more willing to "give" somewhere in the future.
- Be nice. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Be flexible. Most plans can be adjusted. In the long run, you’ll come out far ahead if you show flexibility and are able to change your plans sometimes. Keep in mind the big picture as far as what’s in your child’s best interest.
- Plan ahead. Try not to wait to the last minute to plan or implement changes in your child’s schedule. Plan ahead and share the details with the other parent.
- Listen and be respectful. If you immediately start talking or arguing, you may miss some information and may jump to erroneous conclusions. Listening, just by itself, can defuse tensions. Being courteous and respectful to the other parent may be difficult, but investing in that effort can be rewarding by leading to better communication and relationships.
As our society becomes ever more mobile, parents can have a tough time when it comes to staying abreast of their children’s daily lives. While these solutions are pretty ‘Version 1.0? for today’s teens, they can work great for parents. (When did teenagers stop using email?)
- Basecamp (http://www.basecamphq.com/) is an online project-management system. Although designed for businesses, it’s a great way for parents and kids to communicate, share pictures, schedules, and more. If you can keep all of your stuff within one project, you can’t beat the price: free.
- Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/) is the well-known online photo-hosting service. Remember, parents, it doesn’t have to be only pictures of your kids’ activities. Take pictures of your own activities to share them with your kids. Again, you can’t beat the price: free.
- Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com/) is an online journaling system, and you can set it up so that entries are visible to anyone, just your friends, or only you. Not only can this service give you a place to write down your thoughts (just remember to set those to private!), but you can compose messages to your kids and engage in dialog with them. Once again, it’s free.
- Campfire (http://www.campfirenow.com/) is an online instant-messaging system that works via the Web, so no worries about who has Yahoo!, MS Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and so on. As long as the total number of chatters is four or fewer, it’s (surprise!) free.
While nothing is better than in-person communications, followed closely by a telephone call, the advantage of these options (except for Campfire) is that you can do them while your kids aren’t available by phone (in school, sleeping, etc.). When your kids get home or wake up, they can check to see what you’ve left for them.
These options are not the only ones out there, and may not even be the best options. Hopefully they will inspire you to find more ways to keep in touch with your kids, even if they just live across town.
Sources for Post: Indiana Family Law and Divorce Help Network