Facing a child custody dispute can be an extremely difficult experience for any parent. In some cases, child custody disputes may be accompanied by paternity claims, seeking to prove that a particular person is the biological father of the child, and that he is required to pay child support and to engage in child custody matters. In such scenarios, the putative father may not be expecting to receive any papers concerning child custody or paternity, and it may be a shock to learn that you are being requested to participate in a child custody case. In other situations, the father of a child already could have spent months or years raising a child and may be surprised to learn that the other parent is asking for sole legal and physical custody of the child.
Any family law situation involving minor children is difficult for almost everyone involved in the case. Yet it can be especially confusing for a parent to know how to respond to child custody papers. What should you do if you are served child custody papers?
Understanding the Child Custody Petition and Serving Papers
Under Georgia law, when a parent files for custody of a child in a divorce proceeding, after a breakup with the child’s other parent, or in conjunction with a paternity petition, that parent typically needs to draft and file a petition for each child. In order to do so, the child must have been residing in the Georgia county where the petition is being filed for at least six months.
Georgia law stipulates that, “in all cases in which the custody of any child is at issue between the parents, there shall be no prima-facie right to the custody of the child in the father or mother,” and the court does not begin with a presumption in favor of either parent. Yet typically, only one parent will file for custody in situations where the other parent receives papers. The parent who receives papers has those papers “served” on them.
The custody petition usually involves the parent who files seeking custody. While Georgia law encourages parents to come to an agreement about child custody outside the courtroom and to develop a parenting plan together, a hearing will occur if the parents cannot reach a decision.
Responding to Child Custody Papers
One of the most important things to know about being served child custody papers is that you have the ability to respond. If you do not agree with any of the terms that the other parent outlines in the papers, then you can file a response. You should read the petition carefully and thoroughly, and you should respond if you dispute any of the terms.
Filing a response can be very tricky for anyone who does not have experience handling family law matters. As such, it is extremely important to work with a Georgia family law attorney who can ensure that you file a response in a timely manner, and that you make clear your position in the child custody case. Your attorney ultimately can represent you in court and can advocate for your rights before the judge if necessary.
In disputed child custody matters, the court will make a child custody decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.