Parents living apart must establish a custody arrangement for their children. This means, if you and your co-parent are married, you must create and agree on a parenting plan before you divorce. If you were never married, the father’s right to visitation depends on whether he legitimized the child.

A Forsyth County visitation lawyer can answer any questions about resolving custody and visitation matters with your co-parent. Working with a local family attorney on these issues could ensure you reach a workable resolution that supports your children’s best interests.

Establishing an Unmarried Father’s Right to Visitation

When an unmarried couple has a baby, the mother is the child’s only legal parent. A father could sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity, which puts his name on the child’s birth certificate and establishes an obligation to pay child support. However, acknowledging paternity does not trigger the right to visitation.

A father becomes a legal parent with the right to visitation only if he legitimates the child. He can do this by marrying the mother or filing a petition with the court in the county where the mother and child live. Family courts usually grant legitimation petitions if the mother consents. If the mother objects, the court will consider whether legitimation is in the child’s best interests.

If Georgia courts grant legitimation, the father has full parental rights. He can seek custody, visitation, and the right to assume decision-making responsibility for the child. A Forsyth County attorney can advise a parent about the impact legitimation could have on visitation decisions in their specific circumstances.

Creating a Parenting Plan

Divorcing or unmarried parents seeking a court-approved child custody determination must prepare a parenting plan. The plan describes in detail how you and your co-parent will manage raising your children in separate homes.

Many parents seek joint custody arrangements in which the children spend significant time in each parent’s home. In other cases, an arrangement where one parent has primary physical custody, and the other has reasonable visitation is a better solution. Regardless of your custody arrangement, your parenting plan must describe when the children will sleep in each parent’s home, where they will spend birthdays and holidays, which parent is responsible for transportation on what days, and other details.

If you and your co-parent cannot agree on a parenting plan, the family judge will impose one. It makes sense to make strong efforts to develop a plan yourselves. Mediation is often helpful, and Forsyth County requires it when matters regarding children are in dispute in a divorce. Your attorney can be present at the mediation or review the visitation agreement afterward to ensure that it is in the children’s best interests and meets your goals.

Protecting a Child When Contact with a Parent is Unsafe

Sometimes one parent wants to prevent the other from having contact with the children. This strategy is rarely successful and could reflect poorly on the parent trying to deprive the other of contact. The law in Georgia presumes that a significant relationship with both parents is in the children’s best interests.

If a parent has legitimate concerns about their children’s safety when in the company of the co-parent, the Official Code of Georgia § 19-9-7 allows supervised visitation. Supervised visitation could be appropriate if a co-parent:

  • Is actively abusing drugs or alcohol;
  • Has untreated or unresolved mental health issues;
  • Has a history of child abuse;
  • Has committed acts of family violence.

Sometimes a safety concern arises after the court has issued a custody and visitation order. In such cases, a Forsyth County attorney can request an emergency order to protect the children from the parent’s concerning behavior. The family court would then schedule a hearing where each parent could make their case for a modified custody and visitation arrangement.

Consult a Forsyth County Visitation Attorney Regarding Your Parenting Plan

Custody and visitation issues trigger strong emotions and can be challenging to resolve. However, everyone benefits when parents put their disagreements aside to make arrangements that will support their children’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Judges scrutinize custody and visitation agreements and other aspects of your parenting plan to ensure they support the children’s best interests. An experienced Forsyth County visitation lawyer can help you and your co-parent create a plan that will work for your family and meet with judicial approval. Call our firm today to learn more.

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