Overnight guest restriction during visitation in Georgia divorce decree
The Supreme Court of Georgia recently reversed a trial court's decision regarding a restriction on overnight guests during a parent's visitation time. Ward v. Ward, S11A0437 (2011). In that case, the parties’ Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce awarded primary physical custody of the children to the father, with the mother receiving substantial visitation. Id. About a year after the divorce, the parties each filed modification actions and the divorce decree was amended to include a visitation provision providing that the mother “shall not have any overnight male guests while the minor children are present.” Id.
The mother appealed, arguing that the amended visitation provision was overbroad, and the Supreme Court of Georgia agreed. Id. at 2. Presumably, this provision was included to prohibit the mother from having a boyfriend spend the night, but the Court was moved by the mother’s argument that, as written, the provision “prohibits her from having her father, a brother, a new spouse, or even the children’s father spend the night at her house while the minor children are present.” Id. Generally, “a trial court has discretion to place restrictions on custodial parents’ behavior that will harm their children,” but here, the restriction prohibits the mother from having non-romantic male visitors, which were not shown to be harmful to the children. Id. at 3. Thus, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that the trial court abused its discretion in amending the divorce decree in this manner.
Provisions such as the one addressed in this case are fairly common in divorce decrees. A better way to write this provision would be that the mother shall not have any overnight male guest that is not related by blood or marriage while the minor children are present.