As I wrote a few days ago, Georgia General Assembly is considering a bill that would mandate 50/50 parenting time unless refuted by clear and convincing evidence. There is more in this proposed statute which we’ll consider tonight.
Many members of the Family Law Bar community are expressing concerns regarding the impact of 50/50 parenting time on child support, especially for low income families, as, per current statute in Georgia, increased parenting time is a basis for deviating from a standard child support calculation and 50/50 custody time would reduce child support. There is a fear that in reality, one only parent will carry the burden of parenting the child while receiving reduced child support. To this date there is no effective mechanism to essentially force the parent to spend time with the child if she or he does not want to do it. You could file a contempt action and ask for an increase in child support, but that means even more litigation, more expenses, more volume for the court system which is already struggling.
Another amendment to the same statute impacts the rights of children from the age of 14 and up to make an election on which parent to live with. The current statute states: “In all custody cases in which the child has reached the age of 11 but not 14 years, the judge shall consider the desires and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody. The judge shall have complete discretion in making this determination, and the child’s desires shall not be controlling. The judge shall further have broad discretion as to how the child’s desires are to be considered, including through the report of a guardian ad litem. The best interests of the child standard shall be controlling. The parental selection of a child who has reached the age of 11 but not 14 years shall not, in and of itself, constitute a material change of condition or circumstance in any action seeking a modification or change in the custody of that child.”
According to the proposed amendment to the custody statute, “the desires of the child if such child is of appropriate age and discretion” will become just one of the factors the judge will consider when determining the custody issue. That in itself will bring a whole other set of problems when the custody in issue is of adolescents. This may not sound like much but for years, children 14 and older largely have been able to decide which parent they want to live with. This will undermine that decades old approach which was borne of understanding the futility of denying some autonomy to older teenagers. It is inviting trouble.
The General Assembly is actively debating all these sea changes to the lives of many Georgians. Whether these ideas pass into law this year or not, the tide is likely rising that within a decade, much of this will become law and, as law often has it, society changes to its dictates, for better or worse.