Alpharetta Child Custody Lawyers Answer Custody & Visitation FAQs
What does “custody” mean?
In Georgia, the term “custody” actually refers to two different concepts: physical custody and legal custody. It is important that parents understand the distinctions between the two as they work through the custody process.
- Physical Custody. Physical custody refers to where a child will live and who they will live with. Often, parents share physical custody of their children (known as joint physical custody), with one parent usually having primary physical custody, meaning that this parent’s household will be the main residence for the child(ren). Depending on the arrangement, parents may split their time with their children 50/50 or agree to specific schedules, such as physical custody on the weekends or after school. Sole physical custody means that the child will reside with only one parent, whereas the other may or may not be granted visitation rights.
- Legal Custody. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make key decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, such as where a child will be educated or what religious training the child will have. Parents often share legal custody, which means both parents must continue to work collaboratively in making decisions for their child. Sometimes, however, only one parent is granted legal custody. When this occurs, the parent without legal custody does not have a right to make big, binding decisions on behalf of his or her child and cannot obstruct the decisions made by the other parent.
Are mothers favored in child custody decisions?
No, or at least not simply because they are mothers. Georgia law has long since ridded itself of any presumptions in favor of mothers when it comes to child custody and explicitly provides that “there shall be no prima-facie right to the custody of the child in the father or mother. There shall be no presumption in favor of any particular form of custody, legal or physical, nor in favor of either parent.” O.C.G.A § 19-9-3(a)(1).
Can parents decide custody arrangements by themselves?
Yes. In fact, it is almost always preferable for parents to come to an amicable, fair, and equitable agreement as to custody arrangements. Given a choice, most parents would rather make the decisions that will govern their relationship with their child than have a stranger in a black robe make those decisions for them. However, all custody and visitation arrangements, which will be included in a comprehensive, written parenting plan, must be approved by the judge.
What is a “parenting plan” and what does it need to include?
The parenting plan is the document which will govern the rights and obligations of the parents until and unless the order is modified or when the child turns 18. Georgia law requires that all parenting plans contain clear and detailed information about how the child will be raised and how the parents will interact with each other, including a recognition that “a close and continuing parent-child relationship and continuity in the child’s life will be in the child’s best interest.”
How does a judge decide custody when the parents can’t agree?
There is one question – and one question only – that a Georgia judge needs to answer when deciding on custody and visitation arrangements: what is for the best interest of the child and what will best promote the child’s welfare and happiness?
Of course, making that determination requires that the judge consider and weigh many factors, which are explicitly set forth in O.C.G.A § 19-9-3(a)(2). These include looking at the existing emotional ties between the child and each parent, the parents’ respective capacities to provide for the child’s emotional, practical, and financial needs, the mental and physical health of each parent, and many more, all of which are focused on determining what arrangements will give the child the best opportunities for a happy and healthy childhood.
Does the child get a say as to custody and visitation arrangements?
Yes. For children 14 years-old or older, Georgia law give the child the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live. The child’s choice is presumptive unless the selected parent is determined not to be in the best interests of the child, as when there are concerns about substance abuse, domestic violence or the parent’s ability to provide a healthy and safe environment for the child. In cases in which the child has reached the age of 11 but not 14 years, a judge will consider the child’s wishes, but they are not controlling, and judges have broad discretion as to how much weight to give those wishes.
Can a step-parent get custody or visitation rights?
Under Georgia law, step-parents do not have custody or visitation rights, no matter how close a relationship they may have with their step-child. However, if a step-parent has legally adopted the child, they will have the same custody and visitation rights as a biological parent.
Can custody or visitation arrangements be changed, or can parental rights be terminated?
After a divorce, either parent can ask the court to modify existing custody or visitation arrangements if there has been a significant change in circumstances which makes the requested modification in child’s best interests. Georgia law also allows for the termination of parental rights in extreme circumstance, usually when a parent fails to provide adequate nourishment, education and/or parental care or if the parent’s conduct, such as violence or substance abuse, is likely to cause the child physical, mental or emotional harm.
What happens when a custodial parent wants to relocate with the child?
In Georgia, a custodial parent who wishes to relocate with their children must submit written notice to the non-custodial parent at least 30 days before the proposed moving date. If the non-custodial parent consents to the move, then things should proceed smoothly. As with any modifications to child support or visitation arrangements, court approval is required, and will usually be granted in cases where the parents are in agreement and there are no independent factors which would weigh against permitting the move.
Speak With Experienced Alpharetta Child Custody Lawyers at North Metro Litigators Today
These are just a few of the many child custody questions parents have when facing divorce. At North Metro Litigators, we provide parents with the answers that can bring clarity and peace of mind. Our Alpharetta child custody lawyers work with parents to craft child custody and visitation arrangements which focus on the child’s best interests and ensure that the bonds between parent and child are preserved and strengthened during and after the divorce.
Please call the child custody attorneys at North Metro Litigators today at (678) 944-0000 or contact us to arrange for your free initial consultation.