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Can Visitation be Modified Without Finding a Material Change in Circumstances Has Occurred

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The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s order finding the mother in contempt and modifying the father’s visitation rights.

In 2009, the trial court established paternity, awarded the parties joint legal custody, and granted the father visitation rights of their minor child. In September 2015, the parties entered into a consent order which modified the visitation schedule. The following February, the father filed a motion for contempt, complaining that the mother had willfully failed to comply with the consent order.

After a hearing, the trial court found the mother was in willful contempt of the prior consent order. Additionally, the court modified the prior consent order, to allow the father to pick up the child on his visitation days and ordered the mother to be jailed for 20 days for being in willful contempt.

The mother appealed.

On appeal, the mother argued that the trial court did not have discretion to modify the parties prior consent order, which had already been modified within the last year, without making any findings of fact that there had been a material change in circumstances or that the modification was in the best interests of the child.

The Georgia Court of Appeals found under OCGA 19-9-3 (b), a trial court may periodically review and modify the visitation portion of a custody order without finding that a material change in circumstances has occurred. Additionally, in a contempt action, OCGA 19-9-3 (b) authorizes the trial court to modify visitation rights, on the motion of any party or on the motion of the trial judge.

Absent an abuse of discretion by the trial judge, the decision of the judge will stand if reasonable evidence exists in the record to support the trial court’s decision to change or modify visitation rights. Furthermore, in a motion for contempt no findings of fact or conclusions of law are required where it is not requested by a party.

Stanford v. Pogue A16A1823 (1/20/2017)

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