In Georgia child custody cases, there is no presumption in favor of the mother or the father, or in favor of a particular kind of custody. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(1). Rather, in determining custody, a Judge should take all circumstances of the case into consideration and must “exercise discretion to look to and determine solely what is for the best interest of the child and what will best promote the child’s welfare and happiness.” O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(2). Georgia law lists 17 factors that a Judge may consider, including “[t]he willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child.” O.C.G.A. §19-9-3(a)(3)(N). A case recently heard by the Court of Appeals of Georgia shows the consequence of a refusal to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent.
In Medley v. Mosley, the mother was awarded primary physical custody of the parties’ son after the father legitimated the child, with the father being awarded visitation. Medley v. Mosley, A15A1201 (November 17, 2015). About a year later, the father filed a Petition for Modification of Child Custody, Child Support, and Visitation, alleging that the mother was denying him visitation and interfering with his parental rights. A guardian ad litem (“GAL”) was appointed and recommended that the father have primary custody. Specifically, the GAL’s investigation found that the mother worked nights and maternal grandmother was caring for the child when he was in the mother’s custody, the mother admitted that she denied visitation to the father, and the mother’s negative allegations about the father were not supported in fact. The trial court followed the GAL’s recommendation in part, awarding the father primary physical custody during the school year, and the mother appealed.
In affirming the trial court’s custody order, the Court of Appeals of Georgia emphasized that, according to Georgia law, “[A] trial court’s decision regarding a change in custody/visitation will be upheld on appeal unless it is shown that the court clearly abused its discretion.” Id.(citing Jackson v. Sanders, 333 Ga. App. 554, 558-59 (2015)). In this case, the evidence showed numerous violations of the custody decree by the mother, which prevented the father from exercising his rightful visitation. For the Court of Appeals of Georgia, that was sufficient to uphold the custody ruling.