Answers To Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody
Parenting responsibilities do not disappear when a marriage or nonmarital relationship ends. Most parents wish to remain involved in their child’s life following divorce. At Skipper Law, LLC, we strive to help our clients accomplish their goals regarding custody and their parental role following divorce. On this page, we answer some frequently asked questions about Georgia’s child custody laws.
How is child custody determined in Georgia?
Georgia courts consider the best interests of the child when making custody decisions. Factors that are commonly considered include:
- Each parent’s involvement in the child’s educational, extracurricular and social activities before the marriage ended
- A child’s relationship with any siblings
- Each parent’s ability to provide love, care and guidance, as well as food, clothing and other necessities
- The importance of continuity in the child’s life, including schooling and social activities
- Each parent’s ability to provide a safe home environment
- Each parent’s physical and mental health
Every case is unique and is decided on its own merits. Parents can reach an agreement on custody and a parenting plan and present it to the court for approval, but it must maintain the best interests of the child.
What are the different types of custody in Georgia?
The court may award sole custody, whereby only one parent has custody of a child, or joint custody, in which custody is shared by both parents, though not necessarily equally. The court also distinguishes between physical custody – where a child spends his or her days and nights – and legal custody, which is the right to participate in decisions regarding education, religious training, health care and other key decisions. In many cases, both parents are awarded legal custody and they share custody of a child. One parent may receive primary custody and the other parent allotted a certain amount of time with the child.
What legal rights does the father of my child have if he never lived with us?
An unwed father who has never lived with his child will have a difficult time being awarded primary custody as long as the mother has shown she can provide adequate care for the child. However, the father may be awarded visitation time with a child if the court determines the father can provide a safe and nurturing environment, and that the father does not attempt to negatively impact the child’s relationship with his or her mother. The father is expected to contribute financially to the child’s upbringing. Enforcement action can be taken against a parent who is not paying court-ordered child support.
Can grandparents obtain visitation or custodial rights?
Parental rights often supersede the rights of grandparents and other relatives. Under Georgia’s Grandparents Visitation Statute, a court may award grandparents visitation rights against a biological parent’s wishes if it is determined that such visitation is in the best interests of the child and that the child’s health or welfare would be harmed if the grandparent was not provided the right to spend time with a grandchild.
A grandparent may petition the court for physical custody against one or both biological parents. To override the presumption favoring the awarding of custody to the child’s parents, it must be shown that awarding physical custody to the grandparent(s) is in the best interest of the child. This may be possible if the grandparent can provide evidence that the child may be harmed physically or emotionally by remaining in the parental home. Obtaining custody of a child against a parent’s wishes is challenging, but not impossible. Our knowledgeable attorneys can advocate aggressively on your behalf.
When can an existing parenting plan or custody order be modified?
Because life continues to change following a divorce or the end of a nonmarital relationship, it is possible to petition the court to change an existing parenting plan or custody plan when circumstances warrant it. A parent can ask the court to change a visitation plan without having to show a change in circumstances once every two years following an initial entry of judgment.
Changing a custody plan requires that the petitioner show a significant change in the family circumstances has occurred since the existing order was issued. A common reason for modifying an existing custody order is the relocation of a custodial or noncustodial parent far away that it will prevent the existing order from being followed. The court must determine that such a move is in the best interests of the child.
An existing parenting plan or custody order also may be modified if it can be shown that the child’s other parent has become unfit or unable to provide proper care for a child. This may include a parent who is dealing with mental illness or substance abuse, or who is living in a house where these conditions exist.
Under Georgia law, a child who is 14 or older may choose which parent to live with and the court will approve a modification as long as it is in the best interest of the child. A child who is at least 11 may also state a preference regarding which parent has primary custody. A judge will review such a request more carefully before approving a custodial change.
We Are Here To Help You Understand Your Rights As A Parent
If you have a question about custody or parental rights, we welcome the opportunity to meet and review your situation. We will provide candid answers and recommend a course of action if that is warranted. Call 770-693-0644 or use our online contact form to schedule a consultation.