Parents who live separately must decide who has legal custody of their children. The person with legal custody has the authority and responsibility to make decisions regarding the children’s upbringing.
Most parents negotiate to determine the terms of a custody arrangement, and many parents choose to share custodial rights. Certain aspects of legal child custody in Atlanta, GA can be complicated, and having legal advice helps ensure everyone’s best interests are protected. Let our trusted child custody attorneys explain what legal custody entails and what the law requires.
Legal custody in Georgia means the legal right and obligation to make fundamental decisions about a child’s life. A parent with legal custody decides where the child goes to school, what religion they practice, whether they receive religious training, the type of healthcare they receive, and their extracurricular activities.
Some parents decide to share all decision-making, and others designate each parent to have authority over specific topics. Regardless of who has legal custody, both parents are entitled to copies of the child’s education, religious, and medical records.
It is important to note that there are certain day-to-day activities legal custody does not cover. These include when a child does their homework, bedtimes, or discipline for misbehavior. It also does not cover whether a parent should seek emergency medical care if a child suffers a serious injury. Those matters are the responsibility of the parent who is looking after the child at the time. However, judges expect parents to cooperate with each other to provide consistency across the two households and inform each other of important events.
In Atlanta, GA parents must include their decisions regarding legal custody in a parenting plan they submit to the family court. When parents share legal custody, they must show that they have thought about how to resolve disputes that might arise between them.
Some parents decide to allocate the final decision to the parent with primary physical custody of the children. Others might designate one parent to have the last word regarding specific issues, like healthcare or education. Many parents decide to include a provision to take a dispute between them to a mediator or arbitrator.
Sharing legal custody ensures both parents have a say in how their child is raised. Parents who share basic values often manage to make decisions for their children even when they have difficulty communicating about other issues. Demonstrating the ability to work together for the children’s sake can help them adjust to the divorce and mitigate the stress of their parents living apart.
Georgia courts may sometimes presume joint legal custody is in the child’s best interests. However, the Official Code of Georgia § 19-9-6(5) allows the judge to award sole decision-making on a specific topic to one parent, while both parents share authority and responsibility for other decisions.
Courts also might award sole legal custody when one parent has demonstrated an incapacity to be a safe and responsible parent, is uninterested in being an active parent, or the parents cannot communicate safely and effectively. It is critical for both parties to have capable legal counsel if a demand for sole legal custody is a possibility in an Atlanta custody case.
The only situation in which Georgia courts routinely grant a parent sole legal custody is when a mother is unmarried and the father has not legitimized the child. A paternity action can prove a man is a biological father and obligate him to pay child support, but it does not confer the right to make decisions for the child. A man must legitimize the child before he has a right to seek legal custody.
Legal child custody in Atlanta, GA, can sometimes be difficult to understand. Our firm can help you understand the rights and obligations that legal custody confers.
The judge must approve your custody agreement, so getting it right is critical. Contact a capable member of our team today to begin reviewing the details of your situation.