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Dealing with child custody and visitation issues during a divorce or modification are always some of the most emotional issues involved in the divorce or modification process. In Georgia, there is both legal and physical custody. It is rare for the court not to award joint legal custody. This simply means that the parents agree to confer and discuss issues regarding the raising of the children in good faith. Each parent will keep the other parent informed about issues and developments in the children’s lives and each parent will be recognized as the legal custodial parent, meaning they can go to the school and meet the teachers or go to the pediatrician and discuss issues with the doctor. The more contentious issue is physical custody. This is more significant as it is physical custody that determines where the children will live most of the time, who will make final decisions when the parents cannot agree and usually who will receive the support for the children.
Granting Child Custody
In Georgia, there are four elements considered in the decision-making process. Education, religion, medical and extra-curricular activities are all considered by the court and can all be decided jointly, divided between the parents or granted to the primary custodial parent. The court usually grants these decisions to the primary custodial parent; however, if the parents can agree to divide these custodial decisions, or prove it is beneficial to the children that one or the other parent has these decisions, then alternate arrangements regarding custodial decisions are acceptable as well.
Child Custody and Visitation
The parent who does not receive primary child custody will receive visitation unless they are unfit and there are issues of concern visitation will be granted. There is a very high threshold when seeking limited or supervised visitation; the court usually grants standard visitation to one parent which means every other weekend, alternating holidays and a day during non-visitation weeks. In my experience, it is much more beneficial for parents to decide amongst themselves how they want to divide their roles with the children. This can take the form of equal time or any variation that is equitable and in the best interest of the children.
Georgia’s child custody and visitation statutes are gender neutral. This means there is no such things as father’s rights litigation. The court looks solely at the best interest of the children. Sometimes these interests are obvious because of the lifestyle of a parent and other times they are not; in cases in which these issues are contentious, a guardian ad litem is sometimes appointed to investigate further and represent the interests of the children. These issues are never easy, emotionally nor legally, and if you are facing a dispute over child custody or visitation it is highly recommended that you seek legal counsel as soon as possible.