Child Custody Attorneys Serving Alpharetta and Woodstock, Georgia
Let North Metro Litigators Preserve and Protect Your Family!
Where am I going to live? Who am I going to live with? Will I have to leave my school and my friends? Do I get a say?
These questions and many, many more can swirl through a child’s mind when he or she finds out that their parents are getting a divorce. Of course, children aren’t the only ones who wonder and worry about what their new life will be like during and after a divorce. Parents who are ending their marriage need to consult with a child custody lawyer to work through the practical challenges and the emotionally taxing process of establishing custody and visitation arrangements that balance their desires and needs with those of their child. North Metro Litigators understands your concerns and whether you choose our Woodstock or Alpharetta office, you’ll find child custody lawyers hoping to ease your stress.
The deep bonds between parent and child and the intense feelings between divorcing parents often lead to contested divorces in Georgia. And while parents need to focus on what is in the best interests of the child, legitimate concerns and irrational emotions can make that easier said than done.
The Alpharetta and Woodstock child custody lawyers at North Metro Litigators understand how much parents want to protect and provide for their children. We also know that parents want as much as possible to keep their children out of the arguments and issues which led to the dissolution of their marriage. That is why our goal is to integrate those two objectives to reach solutions to child custody matters that minimize conflict, facilitate negotiated resolutions, and ensure that our clients and their children move forward with clarity and security.
How is Child Custody Determined in Georgia?
As with every aspect of divorce, 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. This not only spares the couple and their child from unnecessary conflict during divorce proceedings, but it also increases the likelihood of cooperation long after the divorce is finalized.
When you contact North Metro Litigators, a Alpharetta child custody attorney or a Woodstock child custody lawyer will make every effort to help divorcing parents find the middle ground that best serves all parties. Of course, parents frequently cannot come together and reach a negotiated resolution as to some or all custody issues. When that happens, we aggressively pursue results most beneficial to our clients and their children.
If parents can agree on custody, it falls upon a Georgia family law judge to establish custody arrangements. When making such determinations, Georgia judges, like those in every other state, try to find the answer to one overarching question: “What is in the best interest of the child?”
Types of Custody in Georgia Explained
Decisions on custody must be made during a divorce or any time when parents decide they will raise a child in separate households. Parents can go to court, litigate the issue of custody and have a judge decide or they can negotiate out-of-court to create a compromise parenting plan.
Whether parents are fighting in court or attempting to work collaboratively, it’s imperative to understand the many types of custody arrangements that can be made. While most parents focus primarily on physical custody (parenting time), legal custody (decision-making authority) can also be of vital importance.
Physical custody determines where a child will live. Often times, parents share physical custody of their children (known as joint physical custody), with one parent usually having primary physical custody, meaning 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 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. Legal custody is often shared, 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. Because legal custody matters a lot in how a child is raised, it is an important type of custody and should not be overlooked with a focus on physical custody.
Can Parents Decide Child 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. Thus, it’s often helpful to employ the help of child custody lawyers to make sure all bases are covered.
What About the Child’s Wishes?
Naturally, the child may have something to say about what their post-divorce will look like and may have preferences as to where they will live and which parent they would prefer to live with What makes Georgia unique compared to most other states is that it does give older children a say in custody determinations. 14 years of age or older a definitive role in the determination of custody. Even kids younger than 14 may get a non-binding say in their custody arrangements.
For children 14 years of age or older, Georgia law gives 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 desires and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody. But the child’s wishes are not controlling, and judges have fairly broad discretion as to how much weight to give those wishes.
Of course, children can be subject to influence, and divorce can sometimes bring out the worst in parents, including using undue influence to sway the children in their direction by badmouthing the other parent or other improper means.
When a child’s preferences play a role in custody proceedings, the Alpharetta and Woodstock child custody lawyers at North Metro Litigators ensure that the child’s wishes are truly their own and not the result of interference by the other parent.
Georgia Parenting Plan Management with the Help of Your Child Custody Lawyer
Whether through agreement or a judge’s order, all Georgia divorces in which custody is an issue must include a comprehensive parenting plan, approved by the judge, as part of the final divorce decree. The parties can submit a joint plan for the judge’s approval or they can submit competing plans, depending on whether they have resolved custody issues between themselves.
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.”
Can Custody or Visitation Arrangements be Changed? What About Termination of Parental Rights?
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. In any of those situations, it will be best to use the help of a child custody attorney.
Speak With an Experienced Alpharetta Child Custody Attorney or a Woodstock Child Custody Lawyer at North Metro Litigators Today
Parents may make the decision to get divorced, but children must live with the fallout of that choice. They also must build a new life, and how and where they do so can be one of the most contentious issues in a divorce. Our child custody lawyers in Alpharetta and Woodstock work with parents to craft child custody 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.