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Child Custody

Are you pursuing custody of your child(ren) in the Atlanta, Georgia area? This can be a uniquely challenging experience that requires navigating both complex legal matters and strong emotions.

You need proper guidance right now. That’s exactly what Atlanta child custody attorney Traci Weiss of Weiss Family Law offers.

There are two main categories of child custody in Georgia:  physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to who a child lives with. Both parents may share physical custody if that is determined to be in the best interest of the child(ren), but in many cases, it is determined that it’s best for one parent to have primary physical custody and for the other parent to have secondary physical custody.  In more extreme cases, it is occasionally determined for one parent to have sole physical custody.

A parent with legal custody has the right to participate in the making of critical decisions about such matters as a child’s education, healthcare, religious upbringing, extracurricular activities, and other such issues that could play significant roles in their upbringing. Legal custody also involves a parent’s right to access to important information about the child such as medical and school records.  Most often, legal custody is shared between the parents, unless there is a major reason to determine that it would not be in a child’s best interest to have both parents involved in such important decisions.  Typically, a parent is named as the final decision-maker (or tie-breaker) for the 4 main categories (education, medical, religious upbringing and activities) in the event the parents are unable to agree on such important decisions.

Some parents can mutually agree to a custody arrangement that satisfies everyone involved. However, when this isn’t the case, a court may need to make decisions about child custody.

The goal of a Georgia family court is to ensure a child custody arrangement serves a child’s best interests. Potential arrangements include:

  • Joint Legal Custody: With joint legal custody, both parents share responsibility for making good faith efforts to reach joint decisions about the child’s education, medical care, religious upbringing and activities. In the event they cannot agree, then a parent is typically appointed as the final decision-maker for each such issue.
  • Sole Legal Custody: With sole legal custody, one parent has the authority to make all decisions regarding the child’s upbringing without input from the other parent. This type of custody arrangement is appropriate when one parent is unable or unwilling to participate in the decision-making process, such as in cases involving family violence or an absentee parent.
  • Joint Physical Custody: With joint physical custody, the child splits time between both parents, usually on an equal or close to equal basis. The purpose of this arrangement is to provide the child with as stable and consistent a living environment as possible when both parents have been highly involved in their upbringing. Joint physical custody arrangements are typically more practical when both parents live relatively close to one another.
  • Primary and Secondary Physical Custody:  With primary physical custody, the child lives primarily with that parent, and the other parent has secondary physical custody with a parenting time (or “visitation”) schedule that sets out when they see the child.
  • Sole Physical Custody: With sole physical custody, the child primarily lives with one parent. Their other parent may have some parenting time (visitation) rights, or may not be involved regularly in the child’s life. This type of custody arrangement may be necessary when one parent is unable to provide a stable living environment for the child. It might also be ideal if one parent lives somewhat far from a child’s school, relatives, etc.
  • Split Custody: With split custody, where siblings live is split between the two parents. This custody arrangement is rare. However, in some unique circumstances, courts may determine it serves the best interests of the children involved.
  • Nesting/Bird’s Nest Custody: In a nesting (a/k/a “bird’s nest”) custody arrangement, the child remains in one home, and the parents take turns rotating in and out of the home to care for the child. This type of custody arrangement is designed to provide stability for the child while allowing the parents to share custody in a variety of ways. Many consider this to be an “alternative” to traditional custody arrangements. It’s typically difficult for parents to manage frequently moving in and out of a home while their children remain there over a long term, but it can sometimes be a helpful temporary solution.

Numerous factors can influence the type of arrangement that will best fit your situation. An Atlanta area child custody lawyer can answer your questions about this topic in greater detail.

When making a child custody determination in Georgia, a court will consider a range of factors to determine what type of child custody arrangement may best serve a child. Common factors considered by the court may include:

  • The child’s relationships with the parents – including the emotional, physical and psychological connection and bond between a child and each parent
  • The degree to which each parent can provide for a child’s needs
  • The stability of each parent’s home environment, and the ability of each parent to provide a nurturing, stable environment
  • The degree to which each parent is willing to cooperate with the other parent and willingness and ability to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent so that a child may have an ongoing relationship with both parents
  • Parental history of involvement in the child’s life, and the extent to which each parent is involved in a child’s caretaking, education, healthcare, activities, etc., and to make decisions in the child’s best interest
  • The physical and mental health of both parents, including their capacity to meet the child’s needs, provide a safe environment, and make decisions in the child’s best interests
  • The importance of maintaining the child’s relationships with siblings, including half-siblings, step-siblings, or other significant relationships
  • Parental misconduct that could negatively affect the child’s well-being,such as whether either parent has a history of abusing and/or neglecting the child or other family members, substance abuse, or parental alienation
  • The court may consider the proximity of the parents’ residences and the practicality of implementing custody arrangements
  • If a child is mature enough to express a reasonable preference regarding custody, the court may consider the child’s wishes
  • Any other factors deemed relevant to the child’s best interests

Some circumstances may warrant modifying child custody arrangements in Georgia, such as if there has been a material change in circumstances that impacts the best interest of the child. The court must prioritize the best interests of the child when making custody decisions, considering such factors as the child’s age, health, emotional and physical well-being, educational needs, and the stability of their current environment.  Some examples of situations that may give rise to a custody modification include:

  • Domestic Violence: If there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse, it can impact the custody arrangement.
  • Parental Fitness: A significant change in one parent’s physical or mental health, evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, or other changes in their ability to provide a safe and stable environment can result in a custody modification.
  • Relocation: If one parent relocates to another state or significant distance away, it can affect the ability of both parents to care for the child or to be able to exercise the existing parenting time schedule. This may warrant a modification of the custody order.
  • Medical Needs: If the child develops a medical condition or has a change in medical needs, it may require a modification of the custody order.
  • Schooling: A custody order modification might be necessary if a child’s schooling needs change in a significant way.

Whether you’re attempting to modify a child custody order, or your child’s other parent has requested a modification that you don’t believe should be granted, it’s wise to enlist the help of a qualified Georgia child custody modification attorney in these circumstances. They can help you express to the court why a modification is or is not necessary or in the child’s best interest.

With decades of experience practicing law in Georgia, Atlanta child custody attorney Traci Weiss of Weiss Family Law thoroughly understands that child custody matters are often emotionally-fraught. Her goal is to offer you the peace of mind that comes from knowing an expert is representing you in your fight for a proper custody arrangement. To learn more about how she can help, contact the office online or call us at 770-727-0533.

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