Georgia’s New Law About De Facto Custodians
If you spend as much time online and on social media as most people do, chances are that you’re always up-to-date on the latest celebrity scandal and today’s most popular viral video. News that truly affects your day-to-day life, on the other hand, doesn’t always make it onto your newsfeed. As your local experts in Georgia family law, our team at Oxendine Law is spreading the word about an important change to Georgia law that is about to take effect: House Bill 321, which establishes the concept of de facto custodians for children. Here’s what you need to know before the law becomes effective on July 1.
What Is a De Facto Custodian?
Simply put, a de facto custodian is someone who fulfills a parental role for a child but isn’t the child’s legal parent. This most often applies to a parent’s spouse or long-term partner who lives with the family. For example, let’s say John and Mary have been in a relationship and living together for ten years. John has a 12-year-old child from a previous relationship. While Mary isn’t that child’s mother, she’s been living with the child and acting as a parent for them for ten years. Under Georgia’s new law, she may be considered a de facto custodian.
What Does House Bill 321 Do?
There are two primary purposes of House Bill 321: defining a de facto custodian and giving certain rights to these people in child custody cases. In order for someone to legally be considered a de facto custodian, House Bill 321 states that they need to meet a set of criteria. The key criteria include:
- The person must take a parental level of responsibility for the child, such as helping to meet the child’s basic needs.
- The person does not get paid for caring for the child, which means that a nanny or other live-in paid caregiver cannot be a de facto custodian.
- If the child is under three years of age, they must be living with the person and have lived with them for at least six months. If the child is three years old or older, they need to have lived with the person for at least one year. Keep in mind that these time limits must be met before the legal custody proceedings begin.
- The person must have a bonded, parent-like relationship with the child, and that relationship must be supported and nurtured by at least one of the child’s parents. For example, if little Amy is living with her friend’s family against her parents’ wishes, her friend’s parents could not be considered to be de facto custodians.
When a person meets the criteria above to be a de facto custodian, House Bill 321 grants them certain rights when it comes to custody arrangements:
- The de facto custodian is now on the list of people who could be awarded custody of a child. A judge can award joint custody to a parent and a de facto custodian (for instance a mother and her husband or long-term boyfriend) or they can even award full custody to a de facto custodian alone if they determine this to be in the child’s best interest. For a child who is fourteen years of age or older, this also means that the child can ask the court to place them with their de facto custodian.
- If a de facto custodian is not awarded custody of a child, they have a right to file for visitation rights.
- If a de facto custodian isn’t awarded custody and they disagree with the ruling, they have the right to request a custody modification every two years as long as they still meet the criteria for being a de facto custodian.
Why is House Bill 321 Important?
In effect, House Bill 321 expands Georgia family law so that it accommodates non-traditional family structures. Not every household consists of mom, dad, and baby anymore. This bill recognizes that a person without documented legal ties to a child can still be an important part of that child’s life and may even be the best person to guide and raise that child.
For anyone with a vested interest in a child’s well-being, whether it’s their own child or someone close to them, it’s important to understand the basics of family law in Georgia. However, keep in mind that this blog is merely a brief overview of the basics. Family law is a complex field and House Bill 321 could open the door for a welcome change to your family’s custody arrangement, and we’re here to help. To find out your options for filing a custody modification or an original custody arrangement based on this new law, call Oxendine Law to discuss your case.