Post-divorce arrangements for your child involve many factors that could change at any time. If you have an existing court order on child visitation (also called parenting time), and you feel that it should be changed due to a change in circumstances, you may consider filing for modification. Note that the requirements to modify a visitation order are slightly different from modifying a custody order.
In Gwinnett County, GA and nearby areas, talk to Attorney Sharon Jackson for legal guidance on changing your visitation rights. Ms. Jackson can help ensure that your modified plan is legally sound and assist you in convincing the court to modify the order. Call her Lawrenceville office today at (678) 921-3480.
You’re likely aware that a visitation order is not the same as a child custody order. Child custody refers to who gets to be child’s guardian in terms of either legal decision making, physical custody, or both. Visitation – or “parenting time” in legal parlance – refers to the plan that outlines how each parent gets to spend time with the child. Thus, the court’s child custody order typically contains a parenting time plan.
For a child custody order to be modified in Georgia, there has to be a significant change in family circumstances. Many parents find this difficult to prove, and this requirement has hindered some from successfully modifying their custody order.
Modifying a parenting plan, however, does not require this basis. The main obstacle in changing your visitation plan is that it can be modified only every two years. It doesn’t matter whether you recently moved or got a new job that affects your visitation. You have to wait two-years before you can ask the court for a modification.
Beyond this, you’ll have to convince the court that changing the parenting plan is in your child’s best interests. It’s not enough to say, for instance, that the visitation arrangement should be changed because you are relocating to a different city. You must show that modifying parenting time would best benefit your child.
There are common scenarios in co-parenting where quick changes are made to the visitation plan. For example, an unexpected event may require one parent to pick up the child from school outside of the plan’s schedule. These minor, temporary decisions may be workable, especially if the divorced spouses are able to co-parent harmoniously.
No change is official, however, until the court has decreed it. If circumstances call for a long-term or major parenting time change, you’ll want to have it officially modified to avoid legal issues down the road. Even if you and the other parent have amicably agreed on visitation changes, you should still submit your new plan to the court.
Going to court is even more important if you believe that the other parent (or another party) is violating the parenting plan. Visitation violations, sometimes called interference, include failing to show up on time for exchanges, withholding the child from you during your parenting time, denying visitation over child support disputes, and hindering communication between you and your child.
In Georgia, a child who is 14 or older can legally request to change their custodial parent, and a child who is at least 11 years old can tell the court their preference on which parent to live with. The judge will give much weight to the child’s wishes, but will still weigh other factors to decide based on the “best interests” standard.
However, these age-based rules are regarding child custody only, not visitation. Georgia courts have repeatedly affirmed that just because a child is 14 doesn’t mean they can opt out of visiting their non-custodial parent. In other words, a minor child’s opinion does not influence an existing parenting time plan.
One small concession to this is that the court will not hold a custodial parent in contempt if that parent refused to follow the visitation schedule because of the child’s own wishes. If the child independently decided they did not want to spend time with the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent may accordingly decline the visitation without the risk of contempt charges.
Over the decades, Attorney Sharon Jackson has helped numerous Gwinnett County parents secure their parental rights after divorce. If you have a concern regarding your parenting time schedule or if you have decided to file for modification, Ms. Jackson can provide perceptive guidance and legal services based on long experience. For a consultation, call today at (678) 921-3480.