Disputes over child custody can be emotionally taxing, especially when parents do not agree on what a child eats, much less how to divide their child's time and their parenting responsibilities. When parents do not agree on custody, they may petition the court asking it to make the decision for them. This process can be very confusing for both parents and children who may not understand the various roles, procedures, and terminology used. This article provides general information about child custody cases in Atlanta, including information about the process and factors considered by courts when making decisions.
Child Custody Basics
The purpose of a child custody case is to determine what custody arrangement would be best for a child (or children). This is known as the best interest of the child standard. In order to determine which custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child, courts consider factors such as a child's physical safety and welfare, their love and emotional ties to caregivers, a need for stability, sense of security and familiarity, home environments, the need to avoid disrupting the child's life, and the community in which the child lives, among many others.
In Atlanta, along with the rest of Georgia, there are two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions about your child's life. Physical custody means that the parent and the child live together. Both legal and physical custody can be shared by the parents (known as joint custody), or only one parent may have that right (known as sole custody).
Child Custody Process
In Georgia, a child custody case typically begins with a petition. A child custody petition is a request to change the child custody arrangement. The parent filing the petition asking to change the child custody arrangement will give reasons for the change. Often the reasons will include a change in living situations, a new job or other financial change, or perhaps a remarriage. Fulton County courts, along with all courts in Georgia, also require both parents to submit a parenting plan which includes that parent's desires and plans for caring for the child.
Once the case is filed with the court, the Superior Court of Fulton County, lawyers, and other representatives will make a few court appearances to establish the basics of the case. One of the decisions made will be to assign a Guardian Ad Litem to the children. The guardian ad litem is a court officer who is randomly assigned to represent the best interests of the child. This means that they do not favor one parent or the other.
One of the first decisions that a court will make is a temporary custody order. This determines who will take care of the children throughout the custody process. Often, this order will formalize an informal custody arrangement the parents have already made, unless there is a substantial reason for disrupting the child's life.
At the final hearing, a judge will decide on a formal custody arrangement between the parents or other guardians. Factors such as stability, emotional ties, permanence, ability to care for a child, history of abuse and drug addiction, mental and physical health, culture, religion, the child's wishes, and the recommendations of the guardian ad litem will all be considered.
Modifications to Custody
Modifications to custody can take place at any time there is a substantial change in circumstances. One example of a substantial change in circumstances can be the child turning fourteen. At the age of fourteen, a child has the right to choose the parent they want to live with. On the other hand, modifying visitation and parenting time does not require showing a change in circumstances.
As you can see from the information above, the process and law surrounding child custody is not always straightforward. Fortunately, many child custody attorneys in Atlanta are in court on a daily basis and know how to navigate the local rules of the Fulton County Superior Court.
Contact a qualified attorney.