Child Custody & Visitation
The Ground Rules For Establishing Co-Parenting After Divorce
The Parenting Plan
Child custody laws in Georgia require a written parenting plan when child custody is a part of a divorce. The general purpose of the parenting plan is to formally address all primary areas of concern for the care, visitation and upbringing of children affected by divorce. More specifically it covers areas such as physical and legal custody, parental visitation, communications about and access to education, health care, extracurricular and religious activities. The parenting plan effectively assures that both parents can maintain an active role in the life of their child or children.
The parenting plan may be prepared and submitted to the court jointly or individually. Any parenting plan is subject or review by the court. The court may amend any plan based on what the court believes to be in the best interest of the child or children.
Types Of Child Custody in Georgia
Physical & Legal Custody
In Georgia there are two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. In most cases there will be a primary physical custodial parent and a secondary physical custodial parent. The primary physical custodial parent generally has the final decision making authority on decisions in the co-parenting process. Child custody arrangements can be negotiated during the development of the settlement; however the court has the authority to amend any part of the child custody agreement. The court makes changes only when there is a perception that the change would be in the best interest of the child. Child custody arrangements can sometimes be revised through a child custody modification action.
Physical Custody refers to which parent’s home will be the primary residence for the child. The parent awarded physical custody typically has greater day-to-day responsibilities for the care of the child. In amicable divorce situations physical custody can be softly managed to allow the child ample visitation with the non-custodial parent.
Legal Custody refers to the authority to make decisions regarding critical areas of the child’s upbringing. Legal custody matters include medical care, education, religion, extracurricular activities, and related items. Parental ideas on legal custody matters usually do not change substantially after the divorce. Accordingly there is usually hardly any conflict between the parents on legal custody matters.
Sole Or Joint Custody
Joint Custody refers to a condition under which the parents share decision making authority on how to raise their child. Joint custody is the most common decision in child custody arrangements in Georgia. Joint custody mandates that both parents discuss any major decisions about the child’s upbringing.
Sole Custody refers to a condition under which one parent has exclusive custodial rights and the other parent has no rights. Sole custody in Georgia is usually put into effect only in cases of extreme problems associated with a parent such as child abuse, molestation, severe alcohol or drug abuse and similar situations. Parents who do not have visitation rights remain obligated to make any court ordered child support payments.
Temporary Child Custody
Temporary child custody is normal when you first file for divorce in Georgia. When one parent moves to a new residence a decision must be made as to where the children should spend most of their time. Often, temporary custody will be assigned to the parent who remains in the existing marital home. Temporary custody is often set without a lot of discussion or negotiating. Temporary custody and visitation rights can be changed by requesting an emergency hearing before a judge.
Child Custody Emergency Hearings & Modifications
To obtain an emergency hearing you, or your lawyer, must file a petition with the court which declares an emergency issue that requires immediate action. Typically the court considers emergency situations that endanger the health, welfare or safety of the child. If the hearing is granted the petitioner will present evidence that substantiates the claim. The respondent may present counter evidence to dispute the claim. The judge will consider the evidence and render a decision that serves the best interests of the child.
Visitation Schedules & Co-Parenting
Parental visitation schedules and outline for co-parenting are the core parts of your parenting plan. While there are customary visitation schedules your visitation schedules are set per your negotiations with your spouse. Visitation requirements may be tightly limited, restricted or sometimes blocked by the courts when physical abuse, molestation or similar concerns are known or possible. The divorce courts in the state of Georgia prefer that both parents work together to raise their children in a healthy and positive manner.
Most child visitation times in Georgia are unsupervised. This generally means that the non-custodial parent may, during their visitation time, interact with the child in a manner similar to the pre-divorce lifestyle. Within the stipulations of the parenting plan the non-custodial parent can enjoy generally unrestricted time with their child or children.
In certain situations the court develops a perception or position that a child may be exposed to dangers or inappropriate situations if left in the unsupervised care of the non-custodial parent. In such cases the court may mandate supervised visitation which means that another adult must be present at all times during the visitation period. In extreme situations the court may disallow visitation until the non-custodial parent has resolved personal issues through anger management, alcohol or drug treatment, family counseling or similar programs. If supervised visitation is appropriate you should review a list of supervised visitation service providers.
Special Considerations Regarding Child Visitation
Grandparents certainly want to see their grandchildren; however divorces often make this a problem. In 2012 the Georgia legislature passed a statute (HB 1198) which addresses visitation rights for grandparents. In Georgia, grandparents are not permitted to take legal action to secure visitation of children living with both parents. In a divorce grandparents may sue for visitation rights. The court has the authority to appoint a guardian ad litem for any child (at the sole expense of the suing party). For more information you should read Georgia Grandparents’ Rights article.
During the process of resolving child custody you may want to consider addressing the assignment of guardianship for your children in the event of the death of both parents. Often this matter is handled as a family law issue; however there is good cause to handle it as part of your divorce settlement.
Visitation Rights & Paying Child Support
Visitation and the responsibility to pay child support are mutually exclusive. Even if the non-custodial parent is denied visitation, the legal and moral responsibility to pay court mandated child support remains. A custodial parent may not deny visitation to the non-custodial parent even if they are failing to make child support payments.
For questions on child custody, visitation or child support laws in Georgia you may contact our office to arrange for a consultation with an attorney.