When it comes to determining child custody, courts generally tend to favor the parents above any other adult in the child’s life, unless the parent is deemed unfit. However, a new Georgia law gives ‘equitable caregivers’, or adults who are not the biological parents of the child but have played a significant role in their upbringing, the option to petition the court for parental rights and visitation.
Qualifying as an ‘equitable caregiver’
Many adults may qualify as ‘equitable caregivers’ including:
- Non-biological partners in same-sex marriages
- Unmarried partners
- Family friends
Under O.C.G.A. 19-7-3.1, an adult can establish that they are an equitable caregiver by showing that they have accepted a “permanent, unequivocal, committed, and responsible” parental role in the child’s life. In order words, the adult must have established a strong bond with the child and be consistently involved in the child’s upbringing.
The Equitable Caregiver statute does not terminate the rights of a biological parent, but it can give parental rights to a qualified adult who has taken on the responsibility of raising the child. However, keep in mind that if the child is living with both of his or her parents and the parents are not separated, another adult will not be named as equitable caregiver.
Courts focus on best interests of the child
Courts will make decisions regarding equitable caregivers based on the best interests of the child’s physical and mental health. Therefore, even if a qualified adult petitions for parental rights or visitation, the court will only approve the petition if it is in the best interest of the child. A family attorney in your area can help you prove that you are qualified to become an equitable caregiver for the child in your life.