When parents with children contemplate divorce, child custody is the top issue that needs to be settled. Knowing how Georgia law deals with custody can help parents come up with a viable plan and be aware of potential problems.
Types of custody
The law differentiates between two kinds of custody: legal and physical. Physical custody governs where the child will live and who bears primary responsibility for the child's physical needs. Legal custody determines who can make decisions about major issues such as medical treatment, religious observance and education.
When contemplating each of these types of custody, a judge may award joint custody to both parents or sole custody to one of them. The chief principle underlying such a decision is the child's best interest. What is best for a particular child can depend on many factors and is highly individual.
Role of parenting plan
Whenever parents make a custody agreement, they must submit a parenting plan that needs to be approved by the court. An effective plan will have the child's best interests at heart and will include provisions to cover a wide range of foreseeable events.
What a parenting plan should cover
In most cases, children benefit from having close and frequent interactions with both parents. Even if one parent has physical custody, the plan should provide for adequate visitations and detail where the child will spend holidays and special occasions. Sometimes, supervised visitation may be necessary. If so, the plan should detail where the visits will take place and who will supervise.
A typical plan also ensures that both parents have access to the child's school records, medical records and any other necessary information. A good plan will also describe how parents will resolve any future disagreements as to the child's education and other issues. Keeping in mind a growing child's likely future needs can help reduce the need to come back to modify the plan.
The judge may determine that some provisions of the plan are not in the child's best interest. If that happens, the judge may add or change some provisions, or send the parties back to work out a better plan.
A child over 14 may choose his or her custodial parent, although the judge may rule otherwise if the child's decision is not in his or her best interests. If the child is over 11, judges will often ask for his or her input regarding custody arrangements. While taking the child's desires into account, the judge may still decide that a different option would be better for the child.
Each case is different, and parenting plans are never one-size-fits-all. You want the best for your child, so it is important to discuss the parenting plan and any potential custody issues with a qualified attorney. A knowledgeable divorce lawyer can understand the special circumstances of your case and work effectively to help you do the right thing for your child.