In Georgia, and most other states, all parenting time and child custody decisions must be in the best interests of the child. This phrase usually refers to the custody/parenting time process, as opposed to the result.
Slightly different laws apply to parenting time and custody decisions. Georgia has a co-parenting law which presumes that children benefit from meaningful and consistent contact with both parents. This presumption only applies in parenting time divisions (e.g. every other weekend). It doesn’t apply in custody decisions (who makes important decisions, such as the child’s primary residence).
Usually, the judge doesn’t make these decisions. Almost all divorce and other family law cases settle out of court. However, a Marietta family law attorney must ensure that the agreed order sticks close to the listed factors. Judges rarely approve settlements that are clearly off the rails in this area.
Emotional Parent/Child Bonds
Many people are surprised to learn that there are about as many stay-at-home parents today as there were in 1989. Usually, children feel closer to stay-at-home parents, and vice versa. However, in a significant number of cases, familiarity breeds contempt. So, a stay-at-home parent doesn’t always have the edge, at least in terms of this factor.
Love is a verb. Physical expressions, like going to piano recitals, carry much more weight than verbal expressions. Once again, however, showing up at events doesn’t necessarily establish a strong emotional bond. We’ve all done things because we’re expected to do them, not because we want to do them.
Emotional Child/Stepsibling Bonds
This item is a complete non-factor in most states. However, in Georgia, it’s number two on the Section 19-9-3 hit parade. This high ranking makes sense. Children probably spend more time with their stepsiblings than with anyone else. An uncomfortable stepsibling relationship makes a very difficult transition even more difficult.
Once again, love, or the lack thereof, is a verb. Kids may not get along too well, but if there’s no bullying, on the internet or otherwise, this factor may not be too important.
Parent’s Ability and Attitude
Simply stated, some adults have the physical and emotional tools to have good relationships with children, and some adults don’t have these things.
Frequently, a parent’s disability affects the ability to connect with children and provide for them. This disability could be emotional, physical, mental, or pretty much anything else. It could also be beyond the parent’s control, like PTSD, or largely self-inflicted, like a substance abuse issue. Onset or removal of disability is one of the leading reasons a Marietta family law attorney asks for a parenting time or custody modification.
Parent’s Familiarly With, and Knowledge of, the Child and the Child’s Needs
This factor relates back to the first one. Parents who spend lots of time with their children are familiar with their needs. If the parent works a lot or is otherwise gone a lot, the children might feel more like nieces and nephews, from an emotional standpoint.
Familiarity with needs is just a starting point. The parent must also have the capacity, and disposition, to respond to these needs and, when necessary, prioritize these needs above his/her own needs.
Attitude and Ability of the Parent to Care for Basic Needs
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s one thing to know Junior needs private tutoring and understand why he needs it. It’s another thing to get Junior to the tutor’s house by 7, even when Mom just got home from work or Dad would rather be watching basketball. Additionally, as most parents know, if Junior has to be somewhere by 7, he needs his dinner early and he probably needs to finish his homework early. That’s more work.
Additionally, Mom or Dad must be able to pay Junior’s tutor. The law allows an accommodation for “the potential payment of child support by the other parent.” That’s a key choice of words. Less than half of obliges (people entitled to child support) receive the full amount. So, the parent cannot overly rely on child support payments.
Healthy and Safe Environment
From a best interests standpoint, it all starts with health and safety. Usually, this factor applies if a parent regularly uses alcohol, firearms, tobacco, or anything else that a child could get into. Long-term health and safety matters as well. Usually, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If Mom drinks heavily, Susie won’t necessarily develop the same bad habit, but she probably will.
This section vaguely refers to “superficial or material factors.” This phrase usually means Mom mustn’t simply promise to quit drinking. She must actually quit.
Child’s Current Environment
If the parents are informally separated and an informal parenting time/child custody agreement is in place, this factor is often huge.
No matter what they say, children, especially young children, need rules, boundaries, and predictability. So, if the current informal arrangement is working, even if it has some serious flaws, its continuation is usually in the best interests of the children. Basically, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.
Extended Family and Community Support
Parents cannot count on babysitters and grandparents to raise their children. However, a sleepover at Grandma’s or a monthly Parents’ Night Out at church is usually good for everyone involved.
This factor is really two factors. First, in ye olden days, after a divorce, the parents basically went their separate ways, since children “lived” with one parent and “visited” the other one. That’s not true today. Both parents must be willing and able to assume active child rearing roles, regardless of the child’s residence.
Second, many parents hire bulldog Marietta family law attorneys who refuse to compromise, even on small matters. This approach helps their clients a little in the short term. But it hurts them a lot in the long term. Parents who refuse to compromise during court proceedings usually assume the same posture over everyday post-divorce disagreements. That’s not a good co-parenting stance.
Verified Abuse Allegations
Certain kinds of verified abuse allegations are a deal breaker. If a parent physically or otherwise abused the children, or physically or otherwise abused his/her spouse in front of the children, that parent is ineligible for custody and probably ineligible for a meaningful share of parenting time. If the abuse allegations involved a previous family or a previous relationship, that’s not as bad. Once again, modification actions often involve abuse allegations.
There’s a difference between a criminal charge and a criminal conviction. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta family law attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.