Being faced with an Atlanta child custody matter is one of the most difficult situations a parent can encounter. You want what’s best for your minor children; it can be heart-wrenching and emotionally draining to have to fight for what’s right.
The experienced and compassionate family law attorneys at Kitchens New Cleghorn, LLC in Atlanta, GA understand what you’re going through, and are committed to working hard so you and your family can move forward and start the next chapter of your lives.
Georgia’s “Best Interest” Standard for Atlanta Child Custody
Under Georgia law, custody decisions are to be made with the child’s best interests in mind. Unfortunately, divorced or separated parents often disagree about how to best serve their minor children’s best interests.
GA courts will look at a wide variety of factors when considering child custody plans. Some of the items considered include:
- The parents’ home environments.
- Who watches the child when he or she is not at school or day care?
- For young children, who feeds them and gets them off to day care or school?
- Who feeds the child?
- When the child is sick, which parent takes care of her?
- Who takes the child to the doctor when necessary?
- Who helps the child with her homework?
- Who plays with the child?
- Who is the primary contact person for school or day care?
- Who is involved in the child’s extracurricular activities (including registering the child, providing transportation, attending games, recitals or other related events, etc.).
Other factors can certainly come into play, too. For example, if your child’s other parent has a substance abuse problem, has a criminal record, or is otherwise unstable, or if there is a history of violence, your child’s safety will be the primary consideration.
Understanding the Different Types of Custody in Georgia
Georgia law provides for several different types of custody. It is important to understand the differences when you are seeking a custody determination from the courts.
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When a child is born or adopted during a marriage, both parents have equal rights to custody during the term of the marriage. If a child’s parents are married but are separated, a parent who wants sole custody must seek legal custody through a court proceeding.
The situation is a bit different when the parents are not married. For children born out of wedlock, the mother has full custody rights. This is the case even if the biological father signed the birth certificate. In order to obtain custody rights, the father would need to first take action to prove he is the father.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
Child custody can be broken down further into “legal custody” and “physical custody.”
Legal custody refers to the right to be involved with, and contribute to, major decisions affecting the child. These can include decisions about schooling, health care, the child’s daily routine, religious upbringing, and more.
Physical custody refers to who the child lives with.
Legal custody and physical custody can be joint, with both parents sharing these rights, or they can be sole custody rights, giving just one parent the authority to make decisions and/or have physical oversight of, and responsibility for, a minor child.
It is also worth noting that, while child custody and child support are separate determinations, child support depends largely on how custody is awarded. When joint custody is awarded, there may be no need for one spouse to pay child support to the other, because they are sharing responsibility for the care of their child.
When you choose to work with the knowledgeable Atlanta child custody attorneys at Kitchens New Cleghorn, your lawyer will help you evaluate all of the factors that go into making legal and physical custody determinations, so you can petition for a custody arrangement that will meet your child’s needs and best interests, and will give you peace of mind.
Do the Same Factors Apply for Older Children?
Under GA law, children who are between 14- and 18-years old have the right to decide for themselves which of their parents they want to live with. Courts will honor the child’s choice of custodial parent in most cases, unless there is some reason for the judge to believe that awarding custody to one parent would not serve the child’s best interests.
If a child who is at least 14-years old chooses to live with one parent but later changes her mind, she can request a change in custody every two years.
Can Grandparents be Awarded Custody?
Grandparents or another third party can petition the court system to obtain visitation or custody rights for a child. If they are able to prove “special circumstances,” visitation or custody rights may be granted. However, the court defers to the child’s parents’ rights first.
Parenting Plans and Atlanta Child Custody Schedules
In order to obtain a custody determination, you will need to submit a parenting plan to the court. If you and your child’s other parent are able to create a joint parenting plan where you agree on the issues, the process may be faster and relatively inexpensive.
Because the reality is that parents often cannot agree on the decisions required for the parenting plan, each parent may submit a separate plan. When you work with a child custody professional at Kitchens New Cleghorn, we will help you craft the parenting plan.
The end result from a custody proceeding should be a parenting plan and custody schedule that is not only in your child’s best interests, but that you and your child’s other parent can both live with.
The parenting plan should contemplate, and ultimately include, provisions addressing the following:
- How birthdays, holidays, and vacation time will be handled
- How custody on other days will be handled
- If custody is shared, how transportation will work, where drop-offs or meetings will occur
- How the parents feel about one parent contacting the child while the child is in the other parent’s custody
Can Custody Orders be Changed?
Once a judge has issued a custody decision, that decision can only be changed under certain circumstances. Examples of such circumstances include a change in the custodial parent’s physical or mental health, a change in one or both parents’ living conditions, or a job change that will take the custodial parent across the country.
If the custody decision was made before the child’s fourteenth birthday, he or she has the right to decide who he or she wants to live with upon reaching age fourteen, and every two years thereafter.
Another situation where a custody order can be changed is when one or both of the parents are active-duty military personnel. Temporary changes to parenting plans may be made relatively quickly to accommodate service members who are being deployed.
Choose An Experienced Child Custody Attorney. Choose the Professionals at Kitchens New Cleghorn, LLC.
When you need to fight to obtain a custody schedule that meets your child’s best interests and your needs, you don’t have to go it alone.
At Kitchens New Cleghorn, LLC, we are dedicated to helping our clients, and we work hard toward our goal of obtaining the best possible outcome in every case.
To learn more and to schedule a no-obligation consultation in Atlanta, call us at (404) 996-0806 or contact us online today.