Child custody is often one of the most contentious issues parents must address when they decide to separate. Each parent wants to preserve their relationship with their children. Arranging your life and theirs to make it happen is challenging when parents live apart.

Contentious, contested custody battles can harm children emotionally. A compassionate, experienced family law attorney can help you reduce the impact divorce or a custody battle has on your children at all costs. By engaging with the other parent’s attorney or supporting a parent through mediation or another form of dispute resolution, a determined family attorney can guide you through the negotiation process to achieve a solution that benefits all parties involved.

If you need legal counsel to help you and your co-parent negotiate a custody agreement, call a Douglasville child custody lawyer at Bardley McKnight Law. With help from our loyal and confident attorneys, you and the other parent can develop a parenting plan that supports your children’s well-being and works for both of you.

Courts Favor Contact with Both Parents

There are two forms of custody: – physical custody and legal custody. Legal custody refers to all matters related to the children’s overall health, happiness, education, non-emergency medical needs, extra-curricular activities, and religious upbringing. Parents are expected to thoroughly discuss issues with their children as they arise with the goal of reaching a mutual agreement. In the event the parties are unable to agree, one parent must be designated the tie breaker or final decision-maker. Physical custody refers to where your child lives. More and more courts favor shared physical and shared legal custody in the belief that children have a right to and benefit from a close and meaningful relationship with both parents.

Joint physical custody means the child spends equal or close to equal time with each parent. The child might alternate weeks at each parent’s home, spend several nights each week with each parent in their home, or the child might remain in one home, and the parents move back and forth. The specifics are up to the parents to decide, but again, these arrangements must be included in the parenting plan for court review.

Best Interest of the Children Is the Standard

Courts encourage parents to develop their own parenting plan. Parents know their children best and each parent’s particular strengths, weaknesses, and personal situations. Parents are best positioned to come up with a parenting schedule for their children. When parents develop a custody and visitation agreement, the court must review and approve it before it takes legal effect.

When reviewing parenting plans, courts try to discern whether the arrangement supports the children’s best interest. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated §19-9-3 describes the factors a court will consider when evaluating best interest, including:

  • Emotional bonds between each parent and each child
  • Bonds between siblings
  • Each parent’s experience as the child’s caregiver
  • Each parent’s mental and physical health
  • Each parent’s capacity to provide a safe and stable home
  • Whether a parent can encourage and nourish the children’s bond with the other parent
  • Whether the parents can communicate with each other effectively
  • The child’s preferences if the child is at least 11 years of age

When a child is 14 years old or older, their preference regarding custody has significant weight. A judge will usually allow a child to live with the parent of their choice unless there is evidence that doing so is not in the child’s best interest.

Custody Issues When Parents Were Never Married

The law entitles an unmarried mother to sole legal and sole physical custody of a child, even if the father signed the birth certificate or otherwise acknowledges paternity. A father who is not married to a mother must complete a process called legitimation to gain legal rights to a child, including custody, visitation, and decision-making authority.

If the child is an infant and the mother is unmarried, both parents could sign an “Acknowledgment of Legitimation” and file it with the Georgia Office of Vital Records. This document establishes the man as the baby’s legal father. As the legal father, the man has the right to petition for custody and visitation and the obligation to pay child support.

In some circumstances, a father may have to obtain a DNA test to confirm paternity. Once paternity is confirmed, the father can petition a court to establish his legal rights and his custodial right to the child.

A judge may deny the petition for legitimation if the father has not previously established a relationship with the child, or if the court determines legitimation is not in the child’s best interest.  Fathers should recognize they must pay child support even if they do not have visitation rights. A seasoned custody lawyer in Douglasville could help a father establish his rights or help a single-mother enforce support.

Develop a Workable Parenting Plan with Help from a Douglasville Child Custody Attorney

If you and the other parent are parting ways, providing your children with both parents’ love, support, and guidance can be challenging. Everyone benefits if the parents can put their differences aside and work out a way to co-parent peacefully.

A Douglasville child custody lawyer can help parents formulate a parenting plan that will work for everyone. Call today to speak with a capable attorney at Bardley McKnight Law.