You don’t have to be related to a child by blood in order to love, care for and support them as any good parent would. There are examples of this across Georgia, such as the countless dedicated stepparents that take on a new parental role.

A relatively new law now gives these non-biological loved ones a way to gain the same parental rights automatically afforded to biological mothers and fathers.

The basics of the equitable caregivers act

House Bill 543 – often referred to as the equitable caregivers act – went into effect July 1, 2019. It allows non-relatives of children to take on an equitable caregiver designation, giving them the legal right to seek custody or visitation of the minor. Previously, the law limited this to certain blood relatives or adoptive parents.

This new law doesn’t allow any person to claim parental rights over a child. Rather, the person filing has to show they have:

  • Fully and completely taken on a “permanent, unequivocal, committed, and responsible parental role” with the child
  • Consistently taken care of the child
  • Established a bonded and dependent relationship with that child, one that was fostered or supported by a parent of the child. Both must also have acknowledged, understood, accepted and behaved as though the individual is one of the child’s parents
  • Accepted full and permanent parental responsibilities without any expectation of financial compensation

The person filing for an equitable caregiver designation also has to demonstrate the child will suffer physical or long-term emotional harm if this relationship is cut off, and that continuing the relationship is in the best interests of the child.

A significant change

There are a number of situations in which this new law can have a dramatic impact on the life of a child and a non-biological parent. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explained in a story, it might apply to:

  • The stepparent of a child whose biological parent dies unexpectedly
  • A non-biological parent that takes in an abandoned child
  • A separated same-sex couple with a child that is biologically related to just one of them

Prior to this law taking effect, a judge would not have been able to grant custody or visitation to one of these non-biological parental figures (unless they had legally adopted the child). This new rule became law without much public fanfare. Its impact, however, will certainly be felt in some custody and visitation cases down the line.