When parents consider divorce and discuss how to be involved in their children’s lives, there are many things to address. Drawing up a parenting plan can be the first step in resolving those issues. But it’s vital to ensure the Georgia courts will consider those plans valid and accept them as part of the finalization of the divorce. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
It’s crucial to understand that any case involving child custody before a Georgia court must provide a parenting plan (or custody agreement).
This document provides details of how the children are cared for in terms of housing, financial support, and other circumstances, including where the child will live, how often they will see each parent, how their medical care will be handled, what religion they’ll be raised in (if any), and other matters.
How Do the Courts Define “Child Custody”?
This is an important concept and one that is frequently misunderstood. There are two types of parenting, also known as custody.
As the phrase implies, this type of custody involves where the child physically lives. There are essentially three types of physical custody.
- Sole physical custody. This means the child lives full-time with one parent.
- Joint physical custody. This occurs when the parents take turns having the child stay with them and is close to equal time with each parent. It may be done by the child going back and forth between two homes, or the child may stay in one place while the parents transition in and out. Traditionally, joint physical custody has been less likely to be assigned in Georgia, but it’s becoming more common as more parents express interest in it.
- Primary physical custody. This means the child lives with one parent most of the time. The other parent has visitation rights.
Legal custody is not about housing but the significant decisions that must be made in a child’s upbringing, including education, religion, medical care, and events such as extracurricular activities, sports, and summer camps.
Sole legal custody. This means one parent has 100% of the rights and responsibilities for all legal decisions regarding the child, and the other has no legal right to input.
Joint legal custody. In this situation, both parents share the legal rights and responsibilities. It doesn’t mean they have to confer over anything as minor as if the child can attend someone’s birthday party or go to a movie with a friend. But the larger decisions, as described above, will be handled jointly. In Georgia, the courts are much more inclined to award joint legal custody because they see value in having both parents involved in major decisions regarding the children. However, sometimes, they’ll award sole legal custody, such as if one parent has been proven abusive to the child or is incarcerated.
How Do the Courts Decide Whether or Not A Particular Parenting Plan Will Work?
First and foremost, the courts will look at what’s in the child’s best interests. Many factors apply to that. They’ll also consider parental preference, but the bottom line is: What’s best for the child? As noted above, currently, Georgia courts lean toward primary physical custody with joint legal custody, but that may change with time.
Here are some factors in deciding what’s in the child’s best interests.
- Relationship with each parent and any other siblings. The court wants evidence of parents bonding with their children with love and affection and knowing and understanding their children. They’ll also look at how the child in question does with other siblings (or half-siblings) in the home. Another factor in this category is how involved each parent is in the child’s life. Do they frequently spend time with the child? Do they try to be available for anything from teacher conferences to medical checkups to school band concerts?
- Ability to provide. Can the parent requesting physical custody provide for the child? That’s not just in terms of financial items such as food and clothing, but can they provide emotional support, time, transportation to activities, etc. If one parent has a job that requires them to travel frequently, they may not be considered a strong contender for physical custody if the other parent either doesn’t work or works locally.
- Stability and soundness of each parent. This involves whether or not each parent has the emotional fortitude and sound mental health to provide the child with a safe, stable home environment. If one parent has a history of being abusive (to the spouse or the child or both) or with addictions or criminal convictions of any kind, that may work against them. The court will also look at the physical health of each parent.
- Demonstration of cooperation. If the parenting is to be joint, the courts will want to believe that the parents can communicate, cooperate, and work together for what’s best for the child.
- Expert recommendations. Sometimes, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem, therapist, or other professional to assess the case and recommend custody rulings.
If you’re unsure of whether you qualify in these factors or how to best demonstrate awarding you the custody rights you believe are in the best interest of the child, contact an experienced child custody attorney.
What Should I Do if I Need Help with a Divorce and Parenting Plan?
Call Lunn Law LLC as soon as possible at 770-762-4628 to set up an assessment. Our team of knowledgeable, experienced family law attorneys can represent you while working toward a shared parenting plan that fits both parents’ needs and would be acceptable to the court. We understand Georgia laws regarding parenting and the various types of custody and can help you avoid unexpected pitfalls.