Couples who are divorcing or choosing to live apart must decide on several key issues regarding their children. The most important of these is how they will manage or share physical custody. The family court must approve all custody decisions, so it is critical to understand what the law expects from these arrangements.
When you and your co-parent are negotiating physical child custody in Atlanta, GA, consider working with our local family law attorneys. Our team can explain your various custody options and help you create a parenting plan likely to meet with court approval.
Physical custody refers to where a child lives. Different arrangements are acceptable under family law, but parents must show why a specific arrangement is in the children’s best interests.
At one time, Georgia courts routinely awarded primary physical custody of the children to the mother, but that is no longer the case. The law now recognizes that gender does not determine parenting skills, and family courts will award custody based on what is best for the children. Atlanta parents can have shared physical custody, or one parent could have sole custody.
If the parents have joint or shared physical custody, the children will spend substantial time living with each parent. However, the split may not be exactly 50/50. If parents submit a parenting plan calling for joint physical custody, the judge will consider whether the parents communicate well enough for a joint custody arrangement to work.
Sometimes a parent’s schedule or living arrangements do not allow for joint custody, or the parents may not have the type of relationship that allows for productive co-parenting. In such cases, one parent would have sole physical custody of the children. However, except in rare cases, the non-custodial parent would have the right to substantial visitation with the children.
The Official Code of Georgia § 19-9-1 requires Atlanta, GA parents to submit a parenting plan before the judge approves any physical child custody arrangement. A parenting plan is a written document explaining how parents who do not live together plan to raise their children. Judges prefer parents to negotiate a parenting plan, but each parent could submit a proposed plan and let the judge pick between them.
The parenting plan must describe where the child will be every day of the year. It also must address transportation concerns, including drop-off and pick-up times. If the parents will exchange the children at a neutral site, the parenting plan must describe the procedures in detail.
Although a parenting plan must be specific about many of the day-to-day details of co-parenting the children, it also must be flexible enough to evolve as circumstances change. Our attorneys can provide helpful guidance as parents negotiate a workable plan.
Sometimes parents submit vastly different parenting plans. In other cases, one parent might allege the other is unfit and seek to prevent them from having contact with the children. In either scenario, the judge will consider specific details and evidence and either accept one parent’s proposed plan or devise a new one.
When the judge must decide on custody issues, the wishes of the parents are secondary. The primary factor is the children’s best interests. The judge considers multiple factors when trying to determine physical child custody in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. Some of these include:
A child can choose which parent they prefer to live with when they reach 14 years old. The judge might consider the opinion of a younger child but will not necessarily act as the child requests.
Judges rarely deny a parent contact with their child. If one parent believes the other poses a threat, they must prove that the parent is unfit or the environment is unsafe. Even then, the judge is far more likely to award supervised visitation than cut-off contact between a parent and child.
Many people find the idea of living apart from their children crushing. Our dedicated team of family law attorneys can help you develop a plan for physical child custody in Atlanta, GA that preserves your family’s best interests. Call the Atlanta Divorce Law Group today to get started.