At The Cherry Law Firm PC, we know that nothing is more important than the well-being of your children. Not surprisingly, in a divorce or custody dispute, it is common for parents to disagree on what is best for their children. As your family law attorneys, we will help you find a solution that fits the needs of both you and your children.
There are several aspects of child custody that the Courts will address in a Georgia divorce, including legal custody, physical custody and the parenting plan.
Generally, Georgia courts will grant joint legal custody if the parents will be able to cooperate and civilly discuss important decisions affecting the welfare of the children. Legal custody enables each party to have access to the children's school, health and other records. The important decisions affecting the welfare of the children usually refer to those decisions related to medical, educational, extracurricular activities and religious upbringing. Even if there is joint legal custody, the final tie breaker needs to be designated for each of the major decision-making areas. If that parents cannot agree regarding an important medical, educational, extracurricular activity or religious issue, the tie breaker will have the final say on the matter.
Physical custody differs from legal custody in that it only refers to the main residence where the children reside. Georgia courts typically refer to one parent as the primary physical custodian and the other parent as the secondary physical custodian. It is far less common for one parent to have sole custody and typically only happens when there is a danger for the child to have any interaction with a parent, such as cases involving criminal convictions for child molestation or physical abuse.
Parenting Plans are drawn up based upon the legal and physical custodial arrangements in each case. We can help you create a day-to-day schedule that works for you, your children and your children's other parent.
Temporary Custody Decisions
Child custody is not always a straightforward process handled by two parents. Custody disputes can lead to very costly divorces. Initial custody decisions are often based upon past history. In other words, if you have been taking care of the children most of the time and your spouse has focused on his or her employment, you will likely be the primary custodial parent on a temporary basis until the Court has enough information to make a final decision.
Working with a Guardian ad Litem
If both parties are seeking primary physical custody, the Court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) to investigate the best interests of the children. In most cases, both parties will be required to share in the legal fees of the GAL. The GAL will interview the parents, the children if of sufficient age, and review relevant information, including school and counseling records, medical records and witness affidavits. Following a full investigation, the GAL will make a custody recommendation to the parties and the Court based upon the “best interest” factors below. Because the GAL's recommendation often carries great weight, it may also serve as the basis for a negotiated custody settlement.
BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD FACTORS
Georgia law sets out the best interest factors that are applied broadly to disputes between parents, third parties and agencies.
If a GAL is appointed and conducts a child custody investigation, he or she normally finds that both parties are equal on most of the factors, with only a few of the factors predominating in favor of one parent. It is wise to carefully review all the factors, but center most of your attention on the factors where there is a clear difference between you and the other parent. The statutory factors that the GAL and later the Court may consider are set forth below.
(A) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
(B) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children;
(C) The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child;
(D) Each parent's knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child's needs;
(E) The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent;
(F) The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
(G) The importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
(H) The stability of the family unit of each of the parents and the presence or absence of each parent's support systems within the community to benefit the child;
(I) The mental and physical health of each parent;
(J) Each parent's involvement, or lack thereof, in the child's educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
(K) Each parent's employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
(L) The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
(M) Each parent's past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
(N) The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child;
(O) Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
(P) Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
(Q) Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.
O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3.
There are many other scenarios or factors that can make child custody complicated. No matter what child custody issue you are facing, we can help. Frequent issues that arise in child custody cases, include:
- Grandparents Rights: While Georgia law has recently changed concerning grandparents' rights, a grandparent may be to petition the court for custody of a child.
- Legitimation/Paternity: Whether you may be a child's father or are a mother seeking a paternity test, we can help.
- Fathers' Rights: Many people believe that mothers take precedence over fathers. Under the law, however, both parents are — or should be — treated equally.
- Relocation: Sometimes, life circumstances require a parent to move out of state or far way. If that is the case, modifications to a custody arrangement may be necessary.
- Parenting Time: If you are being denied visitation with your child, we can help enforce your agreement.
At The Cherry Law Firm PC, we are experienced in handling all types of child custody disputes and can assist you in marshalling the evidence, obtaining the right witnesses and presenting your facts and arguments to a Guardian ad Litem and Judge.
Schedule Your Free Consultation
To schedule a free 15-minute child custody consultation, call us today at 770-444-3399, or click here to access our online scheduler. We serve clients throughout metro Atlanta, including those in Cobb County, Paulding County, Cherokee County and Bartow County.