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Georgia Court Examples of “Substantial Change in Circumstances” for Divorce Modifications

The State of Georgia provides a legal procedure for modification of alimony or child support payments. The modification process applies to those cases where periodic installments have been granted. When the Court issues a final order it intends for it’s final decree to be the last word on the issues of custody and alimony and limits each parties ability to filed motions for modifications. In fact, in order for a party to modify an order of child support within two years of the previous order they must show a substantial change in circumstances.

What does a “substantial change in circumstances’ mean? Unfortunately, there is no set formula for determining which set of facts qualifies. This is because the court has free range to make this call and typically will not be second guessed unless there has been an abuse of discretion. Some of the examples where the court has found a substantial change in circumstances include:

Change in Circumstances in Child Support Cases:

  • Instances where there has been a substantial change in a parent’s income, financial status or the needs of the child will qualify under this standard. Wright v. Burch 331 Ga. App. 839 (2015)
    • Life events such as the loss of a job, unexpected medical bills and promotions can all qualify under certain circumstances. However, the Court will have to hear evidence and arguments from the other side prior to ruling.

Change in Circumstances in Child Custody Cases:

  • Neglect, physical or emotional abuse and reckless conduct could qualify as a change in circumstances for the purposes of a custody modification.
    • The Court in Vaughn v. Stafford 306 Ga. App. 536 (2010) held that “if a child is found under circumstances of destitution and suffering, abandonment, or exposure or if the child has been begging or if it is found that the child is being reared under immoral, obscene, or indecent influences which are likely to degrade his moral character and devote him to a vicious life”, the court may deprive that parent of custody.
  • Any parent petitioning the court for a modification of custody based on a substantial change in circumstances carries the burden of proof and must use competent evidence during the hearing. This could come in the form of testimony, video or other forms of evidence which depicts conduct such as drunkenness, violent behavior, neglect of the child or any other behavior that would be relevant for the court to consider.

Providing proof for a modification of child support generally comes down to a review of the income and financial condition of the parties. A modification of child custody could be more complicated to prove because there are generally more variables in play. The law doesn’t require parents to be perfect. However, the law does require each parent to act in the best interest of the child. It is important to begin documenting your circumstances and building your case as soon as possible. It is critical that you obtain legal advice from an experienced family and divorce law attorney. The Faucette Law Firm, LLC represents clients in all divorce-related matters such as contested and uncontested divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, legitimation and modifications. We serve Atlanta, Fulton, Douglas, Dekalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, Fayette, Carroll, Coweta and Henry. Contact our law office today for a consultation.