Expansion of Who Can Seek Custody in Georgia
A bill allowing more people to seek custody in Georgia will go into effect July 1st. House Bill 543, signed by Governor Brian Kemp last month, amends Georgia law by allowing non-relatives to be considered an equitable caregiver of a child and based on that designation, allowing them to seek custody of that child.
An equitable caregiver is someone who is not a parent but has a parent-like relationship with a child. Until now, Georgia Code provided that parents and certain relatives, limited to grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, and siblings, could seek custody. This excluded some caregivers who were not relatives, were not relatives of sufficiently close degree, or were LGBT parents who were not biologically related to the child and had not taken the necessary steps to legalize their parental relationship with the child. While custody is supposed to be determined based on the best interests of the child, preventing certain persons from seeking custody limited who the courts could award custody to.
To seek custody, a person wishing to proceed under this law will first need to show that they are an equitable caregiver. To be considered an equitable caregiver, the person must have “fully and completely undertaken a permanent, unequivocal, committed responsible parental role in a child’s life.” The relationship must be in the best interests of the child, and there cannot be any open/pending child welfare or youth services cases involving the child and his or her biological parents.
Once the Court classifies someone as an equitable caregiver, the Court can then establish parental rights and responsibilities as to that individual – rights such as custody and visitation. This brings the Georgia Code more in line with its goal of protecting the best interests of the child, increases the opportunity for children to continue living in a safe, loving, and stable home environment, and allows for the continuation of important relationships in the child’s life through visitation with the equitable caregiver, even if custody changes.
For LGBT families, historically, biological parents in LGBT relationships have had an advantage in custody battles if the other parent did not formalize their relationship with the child prior to the break-up or divorce. Many LGBT parents may not realize that they may need to take additional steps to legalize their parent-child relationship even after recognition of their marriages by the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). This new law provides a way for parents who do not have a legal or biological relationship with the child to seek custody even if the biological parent is trying to deny them rights.
Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula) sponsored the legislation. The Georgia General Assembly passed the bill in April 2019 by a vote of 152 to 3, with 15 not voting. Governor Kemp signed the bill into law on May 6th.
If you have any questions about the equitable caregiver legislation, or if need help with your family law case, please contact The Ruthenberg-Marshall Law firm by calling (678) 435-9069 or clicking here to schedule a consultation.