When a couple with children decides to get a divorce one of the most important issues is custody. Where will the child or children live? Which parent will be responsible for issues like schooling, and religious instruction if any? If one parent has sole custody, what visitation rights will the other parent have?
Even if parents are given joint custody, and the child spends equal time with both of them or they share custodial care, everything relating to custody and visitation is detailed in a parenting plan. Commonly, this will indicate where the child is during the week and at weekends. It will also show where the child spends holidays and which parent he or she will be with on special occasions including birthdays and religious holidays. There may be increased detail in terms of a summer break schedule, particularly if one or other parent traditionally goes on vacation during this time.
A parenting plan is intended to make custody and parenting simpler for all parties. It determines the responsibility of both parents and provides security for the children. There is no standard schedule for couples to follow and the plan will be based on the needs of all family members. If the parents don’t agree and the case goes to litigation the judge will decide on the parenting plan and will order visitation rights that must be allowed when the child is with the other parent.
These decisions all become part of the final divorce agreement, and they must be complied with.
But what happens when one or other parent finds that child visitation rights aren’t working?
Requirements for Modification of Child Visitation Rights
First of all, it must be very clear to all parties in a divorce that the judge’s decision is final. It doesn’t matter whether the divorce agreement was ordered by a judge after litigation, or whether it was the result of mediation and collaboration, and simply approved by a judge. That’s it.
So, if the mother or father of a child caught up in a divorce decides that the child visitation rights allowed to them aren’t working the only way to change them is to go back to court. This also applied to grandparents or any other person who has been awarded – or who wants – visitation rights.
In Georgia, parents (and other relevant people) can apply to the court for modification of parenting time or visitation rights once every two years after the divorce judgment without having to prove that there has been a change in their circumstances. It is more complicated if they want the custody order itself changed. This will only be permitted if the circumstances of the family have changed significantly. Furthermore, before any custody order can be altered by a judge the parent applying for modification of child custody has to submit another parenting plan that will take the place of the existing one. This will, of course, change the existing visitation rights.
The final decision must always be in the best interests of the child and the age of the child will determine his or her input. For example if a child is 11 or older the judge will take his or her wishes into account, particularly when it comes to custody. Once the child turns 14 years old he or she can decide which parent to live with.
If you live in Georgia and want your child visitation rights changed, you need an experienced divorce attorney who specializes in family law. The legal team at Slepian, Schwartz & Landgaard is waiting to help you.