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Same-sex stepparent adoption no longer required for custody

Since the enactment of Georgia’s House Bill 543, same-sex marriage partners do not need to have formally adopted a child to request custody or visitation rights. The bill went into effect on July 1, 2019.

Prior to HB543, a same-sex spouse or a stepparent did not have parental rights unless he or she legally adopted a child belonging to the biological parent. Under the new bill, however, the requirement for adoption may not apply if an individual classifies as an “equitable caregiver.”

Who may qualify as an equitable caregiver?

The court may classify a stepparent or same-sex partner as an equitable caregiver if he or she meets certain requirements under the Peach State’s new law. As reported by The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, an individual could petition for custody or visitation rights when he or she can demonstrate a “responsible parental role in the child’s life.”

Factors that could help demonstrate a parental role include:

  • Consistency in taking care of a child
  • An established relationship and bond with a child
  • Acceptance of a role as a child’s parent without expecting any financial gain

Before the change, only adoptive parents and certain family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles could petition for custody. 

Can an equitable caregiver request joint custody?

Once a court determines that an individual qualifies as an equitable caregiver, he or she may request the same custody rights as any biological or adoptive parent. To award joint custody, however, a judge may review an individual’s financial status, residence and ability to continue a parent-child relationship.

What other factors may play a role in awarding custody?

Children who have reached the age of 14 may express their preferences regarding a custody arrangement. A child’s education, extracurricular activities and medical requirements may take priority when the court makes a decision.

During a divorce proceeding, both spouses may also submit to the court an agreed-upon custody and visitation schedule that coincides with the family’s needs.