A very controversial piece of proposed legislation has been introduced in the Georgia General Assembly. It is titled HB 96. It is sponsored by several people including representative Jasmine Clark from District 108. If HB96 becomes law it will tremendously change custody in the State of Georgia. According to the General Assembly, HB 96 is targeted to amend “Article 1 of Chapter 9 of Title 19 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions regarding child custody proceedings, so as to revise the presumption in cases in which the custody of any child is at issue; to revise certain requirements and processes for the establishment and review of child custody and visitation; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes”. For more details and full text of the HB 96 see https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/58935
If HB 96 becomes law, such legislative changes will create a presumption, “rebuttable by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, that a child’s interests are best served by equal or approximately equal parenting time with each parent”. The proposed language specifies: “Alternative forms of custody may be considered by the judge at either a temporary or permanent hearing in the event that there is a finding that clear and convincing evidence exists that either parent is not fit, willing, or able to participate in such an arrangement”.
In plain language, by default, there will be a presumption of 50/50 custody between the parents in Georgia absent evidence of one of the parties’ unfitness, etc. If the law passes, Georgia will join other states that have a presumption of 50/50 custody like Kentucky. This bill has a lot of support including groups that support and promote father’s rights to custody, per representative Clark.
As much as I really want to see that a father’s rights are valued and acknowledged as much as a mother’s and as much as I fully support the rights of both parents in whatever form or shape they come including parents who have no biological link to the child, the current language of the amendment to the Georgia custody statutes greatly concerns me. I really wish that we lived in a world where after the divorce the parents continue to co-parent, with equal parenting time sharing, harmoniously, making all the decisions in the best interest of the children. Unfortunately, that’s often not the reality.
Another huge issue is that the presumption of equal or approximately equal parenting time with each parent is only rebuttable by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. The clear and convincing evidence standard means that the evidence presented must be “highly” and substantially more probable to be true rather than untrue. This is a much higher burden of proof than preponderance of the evidence which is the current standard in custody cases. I can tell you with confidence, based on my experience of trying numerous custody cases in Georgia, that clear and convincing evidence standard is very hard to achieve which means that it would be extremely hard to rebut the presumption that 50/50 parenting time is best for the child and should almost always be followed.
Will this bill become the law of Georgia? The future will show. Certainly, HB 96 bill is causing some very heated discussions right now. If it generates some heat within you, you might want to contact your local legislator.
That’s not all that this law does. Stay tuned for Part II.