During a divorce when children are part of the marriage, child custody and support will be a large part of the divorce process. The court will in fact be very aware and always wary that the best interest of the child or children are being looked after while the parents spend some time arguing about what debts go to who and what cash and property goes to the other. The parents too many times may settle the cash, debts, and property splitting like all stars and then fight like junk yard dogs when it comes to who gets custody of the child or children and who has to pay child support and how much. That can, and in many ways should, be the most painstaking part of a divorce.
The other scenario that child custody and support arise is when two unmarried individuals have children. Many times in this situation the mother has the children if not living with the father. The father in this situation needs to be legitimated. Meaning he needs to be officially declared the father of the child or children by the court. Many times in Georgia this is implied if the mother treats him as the father, the father is named on the birth certificate of the child or children, or the father and mother both consent to him being the father. If there is a problem, the court may order a paternity test to find out for sure if he is the father. Once the father is legitimated we have a mother and father just like after a divorce in the first scenario. Both the mother and father have parental rights to protect during the determination of child custody and support.
In Georgia, the default rule is still to give child custody to the mother as long as she is not found to be unfit. However, this rule is becoming less and less the default rule in Georgia and most of the country for that matter every day as mothers and fathers take on similar roles in the family unit. The father usually is paying child support because the mother has primary physical custody of the child or children and the father has rights of visitation. Visitation means the father has a right to visit, hang out, take the child or children out to eat and usually bring them home the same day by at least bedtime. Sometimes the mother or the parenting plan from the court will outline summer trips with either parent or sleepover visits with the father even if he only has visitation rights most of the time. At the age of 11 a child can request which parent they want to live with but the judge can overrule their request, but at the age of 14 they can decide for themselves.
Child support in Georgia follows a standard worksheet that incorporates the Georgia Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines take into account the income of both parents and any deviations such as significant parenting time with the child or payment of health insurance or other applicable deviations. These deviations must be approved by the court and the judge will zero in on exactly what the reasons are for the deviations on Schedule E of the Child Support worksheet. The child support usually will only continue until the child reaches age 18.
Children take a lot of work. It is hard enough for a husband or wife, mom or dad working together to take care of the children. As divorce happens for various reasons or loving relationships deteriorate, children of the marriage or relationship cannot be divided as easily as cash and property. The parents working together or using the courts will have to decide what is best for the children as far as where they will live, who will be primarily responsible for taking care of them (child custody) and who will pay for the child’s needs (child support) as they continue to have them.
Sometimes the parent that has custody of the child or children is not able to deal with the added stress and difficulty of being a single parent. If a situation occurs where the parent with custody causes or neglects to stop a material change in circumstances, the other parent always has the right if they feel it is necessary to protect the best interests of the child or children to modify child custody to either begin joint custody if feasible or switch and be awarded physical custody of the child and then the other parent becomes responsible for child support. These change in circumstances could be increasing time the child spends with the non-custodial parent but continues to request a full month’s child support payment, neglecting the child, poor performance in school with tardies and unexcused absences, reports of poor hygiene, reports of drug use, alcohol abuse, or domestic abuse around the child or children and many other situations. Sometimes child protective services is involved or in Georgia the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) or “D-fax”. In this scenario the parent requesting to modify custody and support must be able to show they can mitigate the harm the child or children are currently confronting and living with them would be a better situation.
If you have any further questions about Child Custody and Support, please contact my office and we can look specifically at your Child Custody and Support situation to either properly protect your rights at the beginning to set custody and support properly for you as a parent or to modify an existing child custody and support arrangement if you feel a material change in circumstances has occurred.