Oftentimes, co-parents decide to make changes to their child custody arrangements. For example, a parent might accept a new job that changes when they can exercise visitation. Another example might be a change in the child’s schedule that necessitates making changes to which parent takes care of the child each day.

Informal changes to a court-ordered custody arrangement are not legally binding on either parent. That is true even if the parents put the changes in writing. Before the changes to a child custody arrangement can be legally enforceable, those changes must be submitted to the court and included in a court order modifying child custody.

What Is the Process for Modifying a Child Custody Agreement in Lawrenceville, Georgia?

To modify a child custody agreement, you must file a petition with the family court. However, the court does not modify custody arrangements unless you can prove the following:

  • There has been a substantial change in circumstances;
  • The change in circumstances is material and affects the child’s best interest; and,
  • The change in circumstances occurred after the court issued the current child custody order.

If the parents agree to change the custody terms, it can make the process easier. However, the court still reviews the factors to determine whether a custody modification is warranted and justified. There must be a change in circumstances even though the parents agree to the modification. 

How Does the Court Define a Substantial Change in Circumstances?

Georgia does not have a statute that defines a substantial change in circumstances or a change in condition. A change in circumstances can include anything from a parent changing shifts at work to a child joining a sports team or a parent remarrying or moving. 

A change in circumstances can also include situations that would be adverse to a child’s best interest. For example, a parent interferes with the non-custodial parent’s scheduled visitation. There are allegations of abandonment, neglect, or child abuse. An older child expresses the desire to live with their other parent. 

Are you unsure whether your situation merits modifying a child custody agreement? If so, talk with a Lawrenceville child custody lawyer before filing a motion with the court. 

Determining the Best Interest of the Child To Modify a Child Custody Agreement 

A judge determines if a change in conditions justifies modification of custody by determining if a change substantially impacts the child’s well-being and best interests. Section 19-9-3 of The Official Code of Georgia lists factors that a judge may consider when determining the best interests of a child. Those factors include:

  • The relationship between the child and each parent
  • The relationship between the child and their siblings or stepsiblings
  • The ability and willingness of each parent to provide the child with guidance, affection, and love
  • A parent’s ability and willingness to continue raising and educating the child
  • The parent’s understanding of the child’s needs
  • The ability of each parent to provide the child with basic necessities, including shelter, food, clothing, medical care, etc.
  • Each parent’s home environment
  • The need for a stable environment and continuity in the child’s life
  • The stability of the family unit for each parent
  • A parent’s physical and mental health and employment schedule 
  • The participation or lack of participation in the child’s social, educational, and extracurricular activities
  • The child’s record at school, including any special educational needs or health needs
  • The past performance by each parent related to parenting responsibilities
  • A parent’s willingness to foster a close relationship between the child and the other parent
  • Recommendations by guardians ad litem or court custody evaluators 
  • Evidence of domestic abuse or child abuse
  • Other evidence the judge finds relevant 

The primary concern when modifying a child custody agreement is the child’s well-being and safety. For the most part, parents who have a change in circumstances and agree to modify a custody arrangement can do so if they can prove the change benefits their children. However, if the change in custody is disputed, the matter becomes more difficult.

When a parent disputes a change of custody, the parent petitioning to modify custody has the burden of proving:

  • The modification of the custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child; and,
  • The change in circumstances occurred after the court entered the current custody order.

The parent must supply sufficient evidence to support these two factors.

As shown, modifying a child custody agreement in Georgia requires the approval of the court. In addition, seeking full custody requires showing that a parent is unfit to have legal and physical custody. In either event, you’ll likely need the help of an experienced Lawrenceville family law attorney to assist in putting your best case forward.

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm at (404) 594-2143 or reach out to Crystal Wright Law online by visiting our contact us page.

You can also visit our law firm at 440 S. Perry Street Suite 105, Lawrenceville, GA 30046.