Over time, the nature of the family unit has evolved. While the traditional picture of two biological parents and their children is still the most common, non-traditional families have taken their place in society. Georgia law has evolved alongside this change and recognizes a non-traditional family requires non-traditional rules governing child custody.
Equitable Caregiver Act
Becoming law in 2019, Georgia’s Equitable Caregiver Act recognizes that someone other than a child’s biological parents may in fact be the child’s parent in every meaningful way. The Act can apply to grandparents, aunts or uncles, stepparents, domestic partners, same-sex partners or any other interested party. It permits individuals to petition the court to become an ‘equitable caregiver’, with legal rights to both visitation and custody.
The requirements to become an equitable caregiver, however, are considerable. The petitioner must establish that they have engaged in consistent caretaking of the child and undertaken a permanent role as the child’s parent. There must be a significant and dependent relationship with the child, approved of by a parent of the child so that the parent considered the petitioner a parent too. The responsibilities undertaken by the petitioner must have been done without expectation of financial gain. And granting the petition must be in the best interest of the child.
The court will look closely at whether the child is likely to suffer physical or emotional distress if the petitioner is not named an equitable caregiver. The court will consider who has previously been a caregiver for the child and the strength of the bond formed with the petitioner. If there are competing parties to custody of the child, the court will consider their previous levels of interest in caring for the child. And if the child has unique medical or psychological needs, the court will look to see if the petitioner is better able to satisfy those needs.