We study the Zeeman splitting in lateral quantum dots that are defined in GaAs-AlGaAs heterostructures by means of split gates. We demonstrate a nonlinear dependence of the splitting on magnetic field and its substantial variations from dot to dot and from heterostructure to heterostructure. These phenomena are important in the context of information processing since the tunability and dot-dependence of the Zeeman splitting allow for a selective manipulation of spins. We show that spin-orbit effects related to the GaAs band structure quantitatively explain the observed magnitude of the nonlinear dependence of the Zeeman splitting. Furthermore, spin-orbit effects result in a dependence of the Zeeman splitting on predominantly the out-of-plane quantum dot confinement energy. We also show that the variations of the confinement energy due to charge disorder in the heterostructure may explain the dependence of Zeeman splitting on the dot position. This position may be varied by changing the gate voltages, which leads to an electrically tunable Zeeman splitting.