For all parents, time spent with their children is a precious, irreplaceable commodity. For divorced parents, it becomes even more so. The many challenges that parents face raising children while living two separate lives include how to fairly allocate parenting time between themselves and ensuring that the time spent with the other parent comports with the terms set forth in the parenting plan that is required in every Georgia divorce involving children.
Georgia parents who need assistance with visitation and other issues relating to access to and time with their children can turn to the Alpharetta visitation lawyers at North Metro Litigators. We understand how important it is for parents to play an active role in the lives of their kids while they are growing up. We also know how disruptive divorce can be to parent-child relationships, especially when the parents do not get along, can’t reach amicable agreements about custody and visitation issues, or play games with scheduling and other arrangements. Working closely with our clients, we strive to ensure that their parent-child relationships are maintained and strengthened during and after a divorce.
Relationship Between Custody and Visitation
Child custody and visitation are two different things. The former involves such matters as where the child primarily resides and who gets to make decisions relating to the child. The latter involves the arrangements for when and how a non-custodial parent will be with their child. But both custody and visitation involve the same fundamental issue: the time a parent spends with their children.
As such, decisions or agreements made during a divorce regarding custody will inevitably shape those regarding visitation.
Child custody in Georgia involves two distinct aspects: physical custody and legal 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 primary 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.
In all of these physical custody arrangements other than joint physical custody, one parent is considered the “custodial” parent, meaning that the time the non-custodial parent spends with the child constitutes visitation, also known as “parenting time.”
Visitation and Parenting Plans
Both custody and parenting time/visitation are addressed in the required parenting plan that must be submitted, agreed to, or imposed by a judge during a Georgia divorce proceeding.
The parenting plan governs the rights and obligations of the parents until and unless the order is modified or when the child turns 18. The parenting plan must include specifics about visitation and parenting time arrangements, including details relating to:
- Where and when a child will be in each parent’s physical care, designating where the child will spend each day of the year;
- How holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks, and other special occasions will be spent with each parent including the time of day that each event will begin and end;
- Transportation arrangements including how the child will be exchanged between the parents, the location of the exchange, how the transportation costs will be paid, and any other matter relating to the child spending time with each parent;
- Whether supervision will be needed for any parenting time and, if so, the particulars of the supervision;
As with all issues involving children during a divorce, visitation arrangements, whether agreed to by the parents or imposed by the judge, must be determined to be in the best interests of the child.” Sometimes, one parent’s conduct, circumstances, or issues may render it not in the child’s best interests to spend unsupervised time with that parent. Parents with histories of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other misconduct are the most likely candidates for supervised visitation.
Often, the decision to require supervised visitation comes after a guardian ad litem (an attorney appointed by the court to in effect represent the child’s interests during a divorce) determines that supervision would be in the child’s best interest. In addition to requiring that parenting time be supervised or in a protected setting, a Georgia judge can also impose other conditions on the parent’s visitation rights, such as requiring the parent to complete a family violence intervention program, abstaining from using drugs or alcohol, or paying for the costs of the visitation supervisor.
Unlike changes in custody, a parent can request and a court may consider a modification to visitation arrangements or parenting time without a showing of a change in any material conditions and circumstances of either parent or the child. However, a review and modification or alteration of visitation or parenting time cannot be had more often than once in each two-year period following the date of entry of the judgment establishing the visitation arrangements.
Visitation Rights of Other Family Members
A divorce can disrupt other relationships with children, including those with grandparents and other family members. Georgia law allows grandparents to petition the court for visitation time in either an original court proceeding or in the pending divorce proceeding. A 2016 change to Georgia law allows great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles to seek visitation rights during a divorce proceeding or any other pending proceeding involving custody.
Such a request may be granted if the grandparent or other family member can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s health or welfare would be harmed if the child could not visit the grandparent and visitation is in the child’s best interests.
In considering whether the health or welfare of the child would be harmed without such visitation, a judge will consider and may find that harm to the child is reasonably likely to result when, prior to the original action or intervention:
- The child resided with the family member for six months or more;
- The family member provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year;
- There was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the family member with the child; or
- Any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.
Speak With an Experienced Visitation Lawyer at North Metro Litigators Today
If you need help understanding or defending your visitation rights, the experienced visitation attorneys at North Metro Litigators can help you. With offices in Alpharetta and Woodstock, we serve clients throughout Georgia.
Please call us today at (678) 944-0000 or contact us to arrange for your free initial consultation.