It is common in child custody cases for individuals unrelated to a child, like stepparents or step-grandparents, to serve as that child’s primary caregiver. Until recently, these individuals could not obtain legal custody of the child. However, that has recently changed with the passing of Georgia’s Equitable Caregiver Act. In 2019, Georgia legislatures enacted the Equitable Caregiver Act, allowing non-relatives to obtain custody of a child without completely revoking the biological parents’ rights.
If you are the primary caregiver for a child but are not related to the child by blood, you may qualify to become the equitable caregiver.
How Does Georgia Define a Caregiver?
To pursue status as an equitable caregiver and gain legal custody of a child, it is crucial to make sure you fit the description of the caregiver first. Georgia law defines a primary caregiver as one who cares for the needs of someone who cannot care for themselves. Until a child reaches the age of 18, they are considered a minor in Georgia and cannot legally care for themselves; children under 18 must have a caregiver.
Before the Equitable Caregiver Act of 2019, Georgia law only identified a child’s biological relatives as caregivers, whether the relative is a parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, and so forth. However, the change in the law now recognizes extended family members, stepparents, and other non-relatives as possible caregivers for a child.
Am I Considered an Equitable Caregiver?
There are certain criteria you must meet as a non-relative before the court can consider you an equitable caregiver:
- You play a complete, comprehensive, and permanent parenting role in a child’s life. This could apply to stepparents, step-grandparents, or unmarried significant others who care for a child on a consistent, daily basis.
- You fulfill the same parenting duties expected of a biological parent without any expectation for compensation. Nannies, au pairs, or regular babysitters the family employs to care for a child cannot file for equitable caregiver status.
- You have a parental bond with the child that is endorsed by at least one of the child’s biological parents.
- At least one of the child’s parents accepts your parental role in the child’s life and confirms that your actions align with those expected from a parent.
- Your bond with the child is well-established, so much so that removing you as the caregiver would cause the child to have a difficult time adjusting. Newly established significant others or those who have not developed a long-term relationship with the biological parent or child yet will not count. The relationship must be considerable and concrete.
3 Facts to Know When Pursuing Equitable Caregiver Status in Georgia
If you meet the qualifications necessary to become recognized as an equitable caregiver of a child and are interested in pursuing custody, then you can begin the legal process to seek equitable caregiver status.
However, there are still facts to be aware of regarding the Equitable Caregiver Act and gaining custody. Consider these three important facts regarding this process to ensure you are adequately prepared:
#1. The Courts Will Ask for Evidence of Your Parental Role in the Child’s Life
Your judge will want to gather and evaluate all the evidence regarding your role in the child’s life and the benefits of establishing your custodial rights over the child. The judge’s ruling will always reflect whatever the judge believes will be in the child’s best interest, so you will need to provide enough quality evidence to prove that you are a crucial parenting figure for the child.
It is also possible for multiple people to apply to be the child’s equitable caregiver and gain legal custody. It is crucial to provide the court with solid evidence that proves you are the parental figure who best serves the child and has built the strongest bond with them. You can file an opposition if someone else has petitioned to be the equitable caregiver.
#2. The Courts Will Always Favor the Biological Parents First
When preparing your evidence and pursuing legal custody, keep in mind that the law still favors the biological parents to be the official custodians of a child as long as they are deemed fit to provide care. The Equitable Caregiver Act does not remove parental rights from either biological parent; it only grants additional custody to you if the judge determines such an order will be in the child’s best interest.
It is also possible for the judge to rule against you, even if you consistently provide parent-like care to the child on a consistent, permanent basis. Circumstances could lead the judge not to grant custody if they feel that doing so goes against the child’s best interest. When pursuing equitable caregiver status, it is always wise to manage expectations.
#3. The Equitable Caregiver Act Serves Non-Parental Blood Relatives
While we have mostly discussed how the Equitable Caregiver Act helps non-related parent figures gain legal custody, it also significantly benefits extended family members like grandparents. Before 2019, grandparents who served as the primary caregivers of their grandchildren could not easily gain legal custody of their grandchildren; they only had visitation rights. However, the Equitable Caregiver Act now allows grandparents with primary caregiving roles to pursue and obtain legal custody of a child if doing so is in the child’s best interest.
The expert attorneys at Platt Family Law understand the Equitable Caregiver Act and can help you pursue child custody in Georgia.
Family matters can be complicated, especially if you are a non-relative with a strong parental bond to a child or family of children. Our team understands your circumstances and is here to help you achieve legal custody so you may continue caring for the child in your life. We will gladly share more about the Equitable Caregiver Act and guide you toward establishing official caregiver status. Schedule an appointment with our team today: 404-255-3434