CPA Legislative Update By Christine Butcher Hayes

By Christine Butcher Hayes

Legislative Update

The legislature has adjourned sine die! The Georgia General Assembly concluded its 40-day legislative session shortly after midnight on Tuesday, April 2nd. As is typical for the end of the session, days 39 and 40 were both eventful and demanding. The State Bar had a great year under the Gold Dome, successfully passing two bills this session. Without the help of our lawyer-legislators and our members that volunteered their time to propose these bills, none of this success would have been possible.

Every year, the General Assembly creates laws that affect Georgia lawyers and their clients. Below is a non-exhaustive list of legislation we followed that ultimately passed this session.

Domestic and Child Welfare Legislation

SB 190, sponsored by Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon), strikes language that requires a complaint for modification of custody to be filed as a separate action in the county of residence of the legal custodian of the child. Under this legislation, a complaint to modify legal or physical custody must be filed in the county where the defendant resides under Article VI, Section II, Paragraph VI of the Georgia Constitution. The change has the effect of allowing a party to bring a counterclaim for modification of legal custody or physical custody in response to a complaint brought under subsection. The bill also clarifies that a party cannot file a complaint to change custody in response to a motion for contempt.

HB 543, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), provides for procedures for a court to adjudicate an individual to be an equitable caregiver of a child. An equitable caregiver has standing so a court may establish parental rights and responsibilities as to that individual, including custody or visitation. To establish standing as an equitable caregiver, a court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the individual meets a set of elements demonstrating that he or she has engaged in consistent caretaking of the child.

HB 472, sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), requires the court to consider whether there are reasonable alternatives to the removal and placement of a child in foster care. The bill allows the court to order temporary alternatives to foster care, including an order authorizing the child to be cared for by a relative or fictive kin.

HB 381, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration (R-Dacula), makes minor revisions to the child support guidelines to bring them in line with federal law.

SB 225, sponsored by Rep. Larry Walker (R- Perry), conforms Georgia law with the federal Social Security Act and the Family First Prevention Services Act.

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Christine Butcher Hayes is Director of Governmental Affairs at the State Bar of Georgia.