In the state of Georgia, the courts will always make decisions regarding child custody based on the best interests of the child. Parents may present the court with a custody arrangement or visitation schedule that they have both agreed to, and the court may still decide to refuse their proposal if it is not considered to be the best option for the child. So, if you are involved in child custody arrangements following a divorce, or you are looking to modify your current arrangements, consider how Georgia determines the best interest of the child.
The child’s best interest is the focal point in every child custody or visitation case.
The factors that may contribute to a child’s “best interest” include:
- The preferences of the child
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- Which parent can provide a stable home environment
- Involvement with extended family members on the side of either parent
- Relationships with other members of each parent’s household, such as step-parents, step-siblings, half-siblings, etc.
- Involvement in the school or community near each parent
- The age and gender of the child
- History of abuse with the parent, including physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Evidence of alcohol or drug abuse in either household
Based on these factors, the court will decide whether or not both parents should be awarded custody of the child. In the event that both parents are awarded custody, referred to as joint-custody, where the child splits time between parents. With a joint-custody arrangement where both parents share legal custody, they will be able to make the decisions for their child together. Decisions may include anything including the child’s education, religious upbringing, healthcare, after-school activities, and so on. In situations where one parent is granted physical custody, meaning the child will spend more time living with that parent, both parents may still be granted legal custody.
Sometimes, when one parent is deemed unfit or unable to provide a home in the best interest of the child, the court may award sole custody to the more qualified parent. In these situations, the child will live with the parent with sole custody full-time. In most situations, the non-custodial parent may be granted visitation rights. Generally, visitation is determined by the parent with custody and may be limited as long as the parent is fair and reasonable.
However, if the sole custodial parent is vindictive or acts unfairly, withholding access to the child without reason, the issue may be addressed in court. In cases where visitation is not being granted to the non-custodial parent, but legally should, the court may grant a legal order for a visitation schedule.
In some situations, grandparents or other caretakers may also be involved in custody or visitation issues. Most of the time, these types of issues come into play when one or both of the parents are active military members and are therefore gone for extended periods of time, or if the parents are absent from the child’s life for some other reason. In certain circumstances, it is definitely possible for grandparents or other caretakers to be granted custodial rights or visitation rights if the court sees it in the best interest of the child.
For more information regarding child custody or visitation in Georgia, contact Oxendine & Sauls LLC to speak to our family law attorneys about your situation.