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Can Final Custody or Visitation Agreements be Altered?

February 8, 2010

By Bob Coleman

Coleman, Chambers & Rogers, LLP

Two years ago, I was divorced and this past year my ex-wife lost her job, her house and is now living with grandparents and friends. I don’t think this is the best thing for my child. Is it possible to alter the custody agreement?

It is possible to alter a custody or visitation arrangement in Georgia even though the original agreement was deemed “final” by the court. Whenever a party in a custody or visitation arrangement experiences a change in circumstances, and there is cause to believe the change is affecting the welfare of the child, it may be possible to alter the arrangement at a new hearing. However, the person petitioning the court to alter the arrangement must show the court “reasonable evidence” the other party is no longer fit to retain custody, or the changes in circumstances are affecting the interest and welfare of the child. Changes in circumstances can range anywhere from moving too far away from the other parent, to drug use or evidence of neglect and mistreatment of the child.

There are a wide range of circumstances that could be considered sufficient cause for a change. Georgia courts require the petitioner to provide “reasonable evidence” of a material change in conditions since the original arrangement; the change must substantially affect the welfare of the child; and it must be based on new evidence obtained since the prior custody ruling.

Examples of “reasonable evidence” of a material change used in previous Georgia custody hearings include:

  • employment changes requiring extensive overnight travel;
  • frequent visits with a grandparent or relative;
  • relinquishing physical custody to the other parent for a school year;
  • living with another partner out of wed-lock and in the presence of the child;
  • addiction to alcohol or drugs;
  • abandonment of the children;
  • immoral conduct in the home of the children;
  • moving a considerable distance from the other parent’s residence;
  • prejudicing children, or poisoning their minds;
  • violent behavior in front of the children;
  • repeated denial of visitation rights;
  • medical neglect

The existence of one or some of these circumstances does not necessarily mean there is enough evidence to change to the custody agreement. The facts of each case are considered individually by the court. However, these examples can give you an idea of what the court means by a material change in condition. You should consult with an attorney regarding the specific facts of you situation and the impact it is having on the children.

If one parent wants to change an existing custody arrangement, the burden is on them, as the petitioner, to show the court a change in the custodial arrangement is warranted. Should the court choose to hold the new hearing, both parties will have an opportunity to present evidence and respond to the other party’s allegations. The Gainesville attorneys at Coleman, Chambers & Rogers, LLP are here to discuss your options. Call 678-601-2495 .