When a relationship is ending and a couple is starting the process of getting divorced, they need to prepare themselves for the sometimes very emotional process. As if untangling assets and property when a marriage is ending isn’t stressful enough, some couples also need to deal with arranging custody of any children they share as a result of the marriage. Child custody issues are often the most difficult to deal with in and out of the courtroom, for both the parents and the judge involved in the process.
Georgia family courts and mental and developmental health professionals agree that involvement from both parents is important to the welfare and upbringing of children, which is why joint custody is always the goal for a judge who is dealing with a custody case. The court will encourage the parents to work out a joint custody agreement or parenting plan that works for both parties and keeps both parents involved but, should they be unable to do so, the judge will have to make the final decision.
Child Custody Laws in Georgia
In any child custody case, Georgia court judges will always make a decision on the arrangement that is best suited for the children and promotes their best interests. When looking at child custody cases, the judge will treat each case individually and will always begin the assessment under the notion that involvement from both parents is the most important. After this has been established, the court will look at a number of other factors to help determine what is in the best interests of the children.
Some of the additional factors a Georgia judge will consider include:
- The home environment of each parent
- The ability of each parent to nurture and care for the child
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- Each parents’ emotional relationship with the child
- The ability of each parent to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical care for the child
- The parents’ understanding of the child’s educational, social, and medical needs
- How involved each parent is in the children’s social and after-school activities
- Each parent’s willingness to nurture a healthy, loving relationship between the child and the other parent
- The relative stability of each parent
- If either parent has any history of substance abuse, physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or any other criminal history
Types of Child Custody in Georgia
Since having both parents involved in the child’s life is important, Georgia judges will start by accessing whether or not joint custody of the child is possible. Joint custody agreements can have several definitions – joint physical custody is when the child lives with both parents for a determined about of time and joint legal custody is when both parents have the responsibility and right to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, including decisions about their education, medical care, social interactions, community relationships, and their religious upbringing.
Joint custody can be either joint physical, joint legal, or a combination of both types of custody. When making a decision about any custody type, the judge will consider the following information as a means to help them make an informed choice and arrange a child custody agreement that is in the best interest of the child:
- The parents’ ability to communicate effectively with one another
- The parents’ ability to work together to raise the child
- If the parents are living or planning on living close enough to one another to make a joint physical custody agreement feasible
Child’s Ability to Choose their Custodial Parent in Georgia
In the state of Georgia, a child who is 11 years of age or older has the ability to state a preference when it comes to which parent they would like to live with. Although the child will be able to express his or her preference at this age, it does not control the decision the judge will make, but does add an additional factor for the judge to consider. Children who are 14 years of age or older will actually be able to choose where they want to live, and the judge will honor this decision unless it is determined that the parent they wish to live with is not a proper caregiver and that decision is not in the child’s best interest.
What Determines Child Custody in Georgia
Should a joint custody arrangement not be possible in the given situation, the Georgia family court system will then be given the difficult task of determining which parent will be the primary custodial parent and which parent will receive visitation and how much they will receive. The judge will reevaluate the factors outlined earlier to determine which parent will make the better primary caregiver, or who the child will primarily reside with, and then determine the amount of visitation time the other parent will receive, when they will receive it, and how those visits will be conducted.
Child Custody Modification in Georgia
It is possible that, regardless if the parents agreed on joint custody or the judge made the custody arrangement, that there will come a time when that arrangement may need to be modified. If both parents agree to the modification, they will need to submit the request to the judge and, only when both parents are in agreement, the modification is generally granted. If one parent is requesting a modification and the other parent does not necessarily agree, the requesting parent will need to prove the modification is necessary and it will benefit the involved child in some way.
Georgia family court judges believe too many changes in the child’s routine can be detrimental to their emotional and mental health, so they will limit the modifications that can be made. The burden of proof for child custody modifications has very high standards, so that only the most necessary of modifications are granted. When making a request for modification, the parent will need to prove that most or all of the following points work in the favor of the modification to that arrangement:
- A significant change in the requesting parents circumstances has prompted the need for modification, such as having new hours at their job, securing a new job, or having plans to relocate
- The proposed modification will be of benefit to the child involved and will offer them more or better opportunities to improve their life
- The disturbances that will be caused by the modification will be offset by the benefits the child will experience
Child Custody and Relocation in Georgia
As mentioned earlier, relocation may be a reason for a parent to request a modification to their child custody agreement. Relocation can be a very serious issue for Georgia courts to address, especially if the other parent is protesting the move. The requesting parent may wish to relocate with the child for a number of reasons, such as getting a new job, wanting to provide better educational opportunities for the children, or wishing to live closer to immediate family members for additional support.
A relocation, regardless of how far from the current location it is, can be a traumatic experience for children, so the Georgia court system will again want to limit the number of relocations it grants to only those that are absolutely needed. Also, the requesting parent will still carry the burden of proving why the relocation is necessary and the different ways the move will benefit the children. Additionally, the other parent’s views on why the relocation should not happen will be considered.
Some of the factors the court will consider include:
- The age and gender of the child involved
- Whether or not the other parent is in agreement with or protesting the relocation
- If the child has any special physical, mental, or educational needs
- The relationship between the child and the requesting parent
- The relationship between the child and the non-requesting parent
- The reason(s) why the requesting parent is seeking relocation
- How the relocation will benefit the child involved
- The cost and availability of alternative communication methods for the child and the non-requesting parent to stay in touch
- If the child is 11 years of age or older, what their preference is for who they wish to live with
If the child is 14 years of age or older, which parent they want to live with (this decision will be honored by the court unless the parent they choose to live with is an unfit provider).