When parents decide to live apart, they must agree on where their minor children will live and how much time they will spend with the non-residential parent. The time the non-residential parent gets with the children is called visitation or parenting time.
Although Georgia courts occasionally award sole physical custody to one parent if they can show good cause, a family court will rarely prevent visitation with the other parent. The law presumes that children benefit from meaningful contact with both of their parents.
A Cherokee County visitation lawyer from our firm can help you create a reasonable plan with your co-parent, allowing you both to preserve your relationships with your children. A judge must approve your visitation plan, and working with a skilled family attorney can help ensure it meets legal requirements and increases the likelihood that the judge will accept it.
Some of the words a parent might encounter when making arrangements for their children have a different meaning when used in the legal context. Parents should understand the legal definition of certain phrases when negotiating with their co-parents for time with their children.
Legal custody means the right to make decisions about fundamental issues like education, religious upbringing, and healthcare. Parents often have joint legal custody, meaning they must make decisions together and develop a method of resolving disagreements. Some joint custody agreements allow each parent to decide about specific topics separately. For example, one parent might decide where the child attends church while the other tackles school issues.
If the parents cannot communicate productively or safely, a family court might award legal custody to one parent only, but this is rare. In most cases where one parent has legal custody, they must inform the co-parent of their decisions but need not consult them beforehand.
Physical custody is sometimes called residential custody. This refers to where the children live most of the time. Sometimes parents have joint custody, meaning the children spend significant time living with each parent. A joint custody arrangement could be 50/50 if the parents’ schedules allow it.
More often, practical considerations require the children to spend a larger percentage of their time with one parent than the other. Even in joint custody arrangements, Georgia courts will name one parent as the primary residential parent for school registration, medical records, etc.
Joint custody might not be practical or desirable for every family. In that case, a family court will award physical custody to one parent, and the other parent will have visitation rights.
Visitation usually means the right to overnight visits. A “standard visitation” schedule allows the non-residential parent to have the children one weeknight per week, every other weekend, the parent’s birthday, alternating holidays, and two weeks in the summer. However, co-parents are free to come up with a different schedule, and many do.
Sometimes a residential parent has safety concerns about the co-parent, the co-parent’s home, or other people the children might be exposed to in the co-parent’s home. In these instances, the residential parent could request that a co-parent not have the children overnight and that a professional social worker supervises their visits. A Cherokee County visitation attorney can advise parents about the most effective ways to protect their children.
The Official Code of Georgia § 19-9-1 requires co-parents to have a parenting plan. A parenting plan describes how the co-parents will handle visitation, disputes, meeting the children’s transportation needs, ground rules, and other aspects of raising the children separately. If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, a judge will impose one.
Parents should try their best to resolve their issues and develop their own parenting plans. If a judge makes the plan, it may reflect something other than the specific needs and preferences of the family. In most instances, co-parents will have to comply with this imposed plan for at least two years before being able to ask the family court to modify it. A Cherokee County attorney can help families negotiate a parenting plan that will work for them and support their children’s best interests.
Most parents find it incredibly challenging to live apart from their children, and it is often hard for the children, as well. If possible, creating a parenting plan that allows both parents to develop and maintain meaningful relationships can help alleviate some of the stress involved with living separately.