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New Year Signals Start Of New Child Custody Rules – In Georgia

posted by DNA Identifiers @ 9:51 AM
Friday, November 20, 2009

By Alvaro Castillo

When the New Year rolls around, significant new rules for child custody.

cases will apply to new filings. This comes on the heels of major recent child support changes, with which we are all still struggling! Some of what has been enacted is helpful, but the parenting plans are a nightmare.

Changes to child elections of custody have been long overdue. Currently, a child who turns 11 years old has the right to talk to a judge about custody; once the child turns 14 years old, the child has virtually an unfettered and absolute right to choose between the parents. And, the mere fact of a child reaching these ages can be a triggering “change of circumstances” permitting a switch in physical custody.

I have often used a child-election for the benefit of my clients, but I hated doing so. Why? First, it puts the child smack-dab in the middle of a custody fight. Second, you can have situations with a child flipping back and forth on custody, depending on which parent is the most generous, the most lenient, or with whom the child is not angry. Giving a teenager this type of absolute authority is just a recipe for disaster.

The new law fixes the “flip-flop” potential created by t election rights. No longer will the mere fact of a child turning 11 be a basis for a change in physical custody; though a child turning 14 may still trigger such a change. Even so, a 14-year-old will have a “presumptive” right of election, to be honored only if a judge determines the selection is in the child’s “best interests.”

Moreover, this selection can be made only once every two years. Thus, the indiscriminate veto power a 14-year-old has been able to wield will soon be eliminated. Yet the biggest changes will be the new “parenting plan” requirements. They are designed to be an “accounting” setting forth the precise specifics, in almost mind-boggling detail, for custody rights, responsibilities, and visitation.

They are new to Georgia but have been used for years in many other states. My understanding is that our judges are trying to come up with a format to comply with the law, but the draft form is already 10 pages long! Speaking as a family law attorney, I am not looking forward to parenting plans. As a practical matter, I do not envy our judges when dealing with unsophisticated “pro se” litigants.

Between worksheets and parenting plans, it will be virtually impossible for attorneys to quote “simple” low-cost divorce fees for less fortunate families; custody agreements will be a drafting hassle. Things will be particularly tricky when the parties cannot agree, with each party submitting their own plan and a judge trying to choose between the competing terms.

Custody hearings may also have to change. Currently, a judge decides both custody and visitation simultaneously. However, if both parties are required to submit detailed visitation plans, I’m not sure how a judge can rule on everything in a single hearing – first you decide custody, then you consider parenting plans.

As you can see, some of what the legislature has done is a welcome change; parenting plans, however, may prove to be quite the headache! It is a shame there are not more lawyers serving in Atlanta to think through these consequences. Georgia citizens with children will soon be paying even more money to hire attorneys for divorces; a hidden “tax increase” for Georgia’s families courtesy of our elected officials.

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7 Responses to “New Year Signals Start Of New Child Custody Rules – In Georgia”

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  6. John says:

    If I’m reading this correctly a child who made the election to live with the other parent, will be unable to have a change made for 2 years. In other words If a 16 year old chooses to live with their father nothing can be done for 2 years.

  7. admin says:

    John,

    You would need to check with a legal professional in your area. But my understanding is that at the age of 11-14 a child can elect which parent they would like to live with. If the child changes their mind the child can not change primary residence in court for 2 years.

    Again please contact a Family Attorney in Georgia to make sure you know all your rights.
    Briana

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