At Petrelli Previtera, we understand that parents have the best interests of their children at heart. However, we also recognize that reaching an agreement can sometimes be challenging. In Georgia, very specific child custody laws offer guidance on making such decisions, including who will have custody of the child, when that is, and what happens when changes are needed. If you are going through any aspect of this process, our Covington child custody lawyers can provide you with the legal guidance and support you need to navigate the specifics of your case.
At Petrelli Previtera, our attorneys recognize the complications, challenges, and heartbreaking consequences of poorly made child custody decisions. We work closely with our clients to ensure their rights are met and that children receive the best possible outcome for their situation.
What Are the Steps for Filing for Child Custody in Georgia?
Georgia’s child custody laws are complex and often difficult to navigate. Having an attorney to help you can ensure you do not make mistakes that could lead to costly outcomes. Take a look at what you can expect from the legal process.
This is an initial step. It requires the clarification of the jurisdiction that the court has over the case based on location and factors related to where the child lives and where the parents live. This process ensures that any decisions made by the court can be upheld because it has the right to make those decisions.
Filing for custody
Georgia law requires that a formal application for child custody be submitted. This may be necessary in situations where such as:
- A divorce occurs
- A legal separation occurs
- Legitimation of the child’s genetics is considered
- Modification to existing child custody matters must be addressed
- Request for relocation
The court will require the person filing for child custody to submit a parenting plan. This plan will outline the expectations of where the child will live and how custody will be split between parents.
Whenever possible, both parents should contribute to this parenting plan. If both parties agree to it, then there are fewer restrictions and complications going forward. No additional hearings are necessary if both parents agree.
If that is not the case, numerous additional steps must be considered as a component of this process.
Notice and response
When one parent wishes to file for custody or a change in existing custody arrangements, they must alert the other parent of those decisions. This is a notice of filing a child custody petition, formally known as the service of process.
Typically, once the document is drawn up, it is then presented to the other parent by the sheriff or a process server. This ensures that the document goes to the right person and they are officially notified of the action.
Once the other parent receives this information, they are then given the opportunity to respond to the court with their parenting plan if they do not agree to the one submitted. This allows the other parent to have time to take some action.
The next step is called a temporary hearing, which typically occurs within the first 90 days of the filing. This is a non-emergency hearing, meaning that the court will schedule a date for the initial hearing.
While it is not a legal requirement in all situations, mediation is often encouraged in most situations. Whenever possible, it is best for parents to come together to work through disputes so that they maintain the decision-making abilities of their child. The court may order mediation to occur as a first step in resolving any present issues. There may be specific points of the process that must be addressed, and a conclusion to come from those topics before anything can move forward.
In some cases, mediation works the first time, but in many situations, it is not a one-time process but involves several steps and points of discussion. The court may require that status conferences occur during this period. It is a way for the court to keep current on what is occurring. During these meetings, both parents may meet with a judge or an officer of the court, or in some cases, others, to provide updates. This may be scheduled based on the judge’s ruling but could be as often as every 30 to 60 days.
There is a period of discovery involved in child custody hearing matters. That is a term used to describe a wide range of steps taken by the court and others to learn about the details of the case. This includes gathering information, talking to various people, collecting evidence, and other related steps in gathering information so that decisions can occur. During this process, all involved parties can make requests for photos, school records, medical records, financial information, and more as long as it pertains, in some way, to the securing of a decision related to the child’s custody.
In many situations, a trial does not have to occur because the decisions can be reached between parents and agreed upon. Yet, in situations where there is no resolution, the court will then set up a trial. This is a period where a formal meeting of all involved parties will occur, and a judge will preside over the case. Both parties can present information to uphold their own decisions about the parenting plan they have offered. The judge can talk to witnesses and may even discuss the case with the children involved, depending on their age.
The judge then will issue a child custody order, which means that the judge will decide on the full details of the case, including who will receive legal custody of the child and any decisions about physical custody of the child. The ruling will also include information about the visitation schedule, the final parenting plan that all parties must follow, and any other stipulations.
It is important not to overlook enforcement, which is a part of the child custody process. In many situations, changes can occur and go well. However, because this is a heated process, there are times when one party will not follow the rulings set by the court. When parties do not do this, there is a need for the court to act as an enforcer.
Over time, there may be the need to make changes to rulings as well. The judge has the right to make those changes as needed.
Throughout this legal process, you have a voice. Yet, being confident in that voice can be a challenge. That is why we encourage you to work with our Covington child custody lawyers to discuss your situation and create a plan for navigating the process.
How Will a Georgia Judge Determine Custody?
Several factors play a role in this decision, and no judge makes those decisions without carefully weighing the outcome. It often comes down to what the judge feels is best for the child based on their information and the evidence presented to them. Georgia Code O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3 outlines 17 specific elements considered in this process.
Below are the factors the judge will consider in your child’s case.
- Parent-Child Bond: Consideration of the love and affection between the parent and child is considered.
- Siblings: The love, bonding, and emotional ties between a child and the child’s siblings, including half-siblings and step-siblings, are also a factor.
- Parental Capacity: Does the parent have the disposition and ability to provide the child with love, affection, and guidance? This focuses on education and rearing.
- Family Support System: This factor focuses on the presence or, in some cases, the absence of parental support systems that play a role in the child’s support, such as the availability of grandparents.
- Parent Health: Does the parent’s mental or physical health limit their ability to care for their child?
- Parental Involvement: Has the parent been involved (or not been involved) in the child’s life, including in extracurriculars, social activities, and educational activities?
- Parental Employment Schedule: Does the parent’s employment schedule make it possible to provide proper care for the child, and what flexibility or limitations does it create?
- Child’s Needs: The judge takes into consideration the child’s needs as they relate to the home, schedule, and community record of the child. This includes education and health and any special needs the child has, such as an IEP at school.
- Parental Performance: In this aspect, the court looks at both the past parental performance and the expected future performance, including the parent’s ability to meet their responsibilities.
- Parental Cooperation: Does the parent cooperate with the court and the other parent? The court typically wants to see that the parent is not trying to unfairly limit the child’s other parent or the child’s access to the other parent.
- Third-Party Recommendations: In some complicated situations, the court must also consider the recommendations of others, which often includes advisers or other providers who can shed light on any area of the child’s well-being and needs.
- Criminal History: Is there any evidence of family violence in any capacity, including physical, emotional, sexual, or otherwise?
- Substance Abuse: Is there any evidence of substance abuse occurring by either parent?
All of these factors are considered carefully, and ultimately, the court will decide on custody matters based on a cohesive look at all of these elements. One factor may make a big difference in some situations, but overall, the judge will consider all aspects of the situation.
What Type of Custody Arrangements Could Be Created?
Georgia court favors both parents having a role in a child’s life. As such, it is very common for the court to award custody in a way that encourages the involvement of both parents. There are several types of custody the court can provide:
- Physical custody: This focuses on where and when the child lives and how the child lives with each of the parents
- Legal custody: This focuses on how each parent can make decisions on key factors related to the child, including the child’s medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religion.
From there, the court can rule in several ways:
Sole Custody: This refers to the child giving all custodial duties of the child to one parent. This includes sole legal custodian and physical custodian of the child. It is rare for the court to award sole custody.
Joint Physical Custody: In this ruling, the court will provide both parents with some degree of physical custody. The child may spend certain days of the week, for example, with one parent and other days with the other parent. The court will rule that one parent is a primary physical custodian and the other is the secondary physical custodian of the child. The court may rule on various strategies here, including one week with one parent and one week with the other, for example.
Joint Legal Custody: Like with joint physical custody, the court will rule that both parents play a role in the decision-making for the child. This includes the parents often sharing the ability to make all decisions. Sometimes, the court will allow for one parent to receive the ability to make specific decisions about specific areas, giving that parent primary legal custody over a specific area.
Overcoming the Challenges of Georgia’s Child Custody Laws
This breakdown of child custody laws in Georgia is a solid starting point, but it may not answer all your questions. Our attorneys can help. Set up a consultation to discuss our legal services with you, allow us to help you create a parenting plan, aid in mediation and decision-making, and provide you with comprehensive support along the way. Call Petrelli Previtera now for a consultation to discuss your case. Do not go to court without the information and support you need.