CHILD CUSTODY & VISITATION
Child custody can create the most costly friction between divorcing spouses or unmarried parents concerned with parenting rights. In Georgia, the courts recognize two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Each form of custody may be awarded solely to either parent, or jointly, with responsibilities shared equally by each parent. In all cases, the courts will make the custody determination by investigating and deciding on what is in the best interest of the child or children involved. Some of the factors that the court considers in such a determination are as follows:
- the love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his/her siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings;
- each parent’s knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child’s needs;
- the home environment of each parent;
- the stability of the family unit of each of the parents;
- the mental and physical health of each parent;
- each parent’s employment schedule and related flexibility of schedules;
- each parent’s past performance and relative abilities for future performance or parenting responsibilities; and
- the willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage and close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent.
Under Georgia law, a child who attains the age of 14 years has the right to elect with which parent he/she desires to live; this right of election is generally absolute unless the judge finds that it is not in the child’s best interest to have custody placed with the selected parent. In addition, in cases where a child has reached the age of 11 years but not 14 years, a judge will consider the desires of the child in determining which parent should have custody but such desires are not binding on the judge. Children under the age of 11 years generally do not have any right to voice their opinion as to whom they want to live.
There is no substitution for being prepared in these types of cases, as there is nothing more important than your children. Time is expended to prepare the best case possible, which includes reviewing medical records, contacting teachers, interviewing witnesses, preparing a specific parenting plan, and having you detail the explicit reasons why you should be awarded custody in order to present the strongest, most persuasive reasons to the court. The last thing that you want to do, as you walk in to a custody trial, is to wish that you had done more.
To aid in the preparation of such custody cases, third parties can get involved to assist the court in making a custody determination. It may be appropriate or beneficial to request that the court appoint a guardian ad litem to perform an independent investigation and represent the interests of the minor children. If severe stress or emotional problems are being alleged, it can be requested that either, or both, of the parties, along with the minor children, if appropriate, undergo a court-ordered psychological evaluation. At the conclusion of the guardian ad litem and psychologist’s evaluation/investigation, written reports are typically submitted to the court with their findings, conclusions, and recommendations. It must be remembered that each case is unique and must be specially handled depending upon the individual needs of the client.
Kupferman & Golden, Attorneys at Law, has decades of experience handling Georgia child custody and parenting rights matters. Our firm offers a free initial consultation to evaluate the circumstances of your child custody matter and advise you of your rights to your children.