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'Material change' important in a Georgia change of child custody


This blog has previously discussed the differences between joint and sole custody, as well as parenting plans and visitation rights. We have touched on the fact that when a Georgia court makes an initial ruling on custody matters, it generally does so by determining what is in the 'best interests of the child.' But sometimes things change in a family's situation. If a party wants to revisit the issue of custody after an order has already been issued, the court will apply a slightly different standard in determining if any change is warranted.

When a modification or change of custody is requested, Georgia courts will look to determine if there has been a 'material change' that affects the welfare of the child, as explained in the case of Harris v. Williams, decided by a Georgia appellate court. While the trial court has discretion in determining what constitutes a material change, it appears that it must be a change of some significance. If a material change has occurred, either to a child or one of the parties, the court will apply the best interests standard to decide how the order should be changed.

In the Harris case, a mother asked the court to change the order granting custody of their children to their father. The appellate court, however, found that the trial court was within its discretion to find she had not carried the burden of showing a material change affecting the welfare of the children. Specifically, she had not shown evidence that the living arrangements of the children, their father's work schedule or one daughter's attendance at an out-of-county school warranted a change in the order.

What any given trial court will find to be a material change affecting the welfare of a child depends upon the facts of each individual case and the arguments presented. Georgia residents contemplating a petition for change of child custody may wish to consider contacting an experienced family attorney to find out more.

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