Because life is fluid, things are constantly changing. People get new jobs, move to new cities and start new families. When individuals who are bound by agreements made during a divorce undergo major changes, they may need to seek court order modifications.
One example of this type of situation has recently been in the news. While this particular occurrence took place outside Georgia, it could just as well have happened in Marietta or any other city in the nation.
When a man and his wife divorced in 2002, their divorce agreement stated their son was allowed to spend two consecutive nights at the man’s house two times one month and three times the following month. Since the father worked as a police officer and his schedule was subject to change, the arrangement worked at the time.
However, the man was later promoted and began to work Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00. He remarried, and he and his new wife had two children together. Further, the son from the previous marriage expressed an interest in spending more time with his father.
In light of the changes in the circumstances, the father petitioned to modify the parenting plan in 2008. His ex-wife objected to the proposed changes. The family court appointed a guardian ad litem, who determined that the boy had strong relationships with both parents and stepparents. The guardian recommended that the mother retain primary custody, but the boy alternate between the two homes each week during the school year.
The family court judge ruled that the child’s preference did not bind the court because he had not yet turned 14 and the existing agreement did not harm the child. In 2009, a Circuit Court judge reaffirmed the family court judge’s ruling. Determined to obtain a modification, the father turned to the state Supreme Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court determined the existing parenting order no longer served the child’s best interests. The Justices agreed with the father that increasing the amount of time with him would benefit the child. Further, they ruled that a child’s preferences with regard to custody should be taken into consideration when the child is mature, even if the child has not yet turned 14.
The family court must now modify the parenting plan, as well as settle any disputes over child support and health insurance.
Source: The West Virginia Record, “Father can spend more time with teen son, Justices rule,” Steve Korris, 15 April 2011