Custody and Parenting Time
Custody is one of the most personal and emotionally difficult issues to deal with as a litigant. As a parent who wants what is best for your child, it is sometimes hard to see clearly when handling custody issues. An attorney can help advise you on your options as well as how a Court is likely to view your particular case.
Difference between Legal and Physical Custody
Custody refers to both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is which parent gets to make final decisions for the child. There are four areas of legal final decision making: education, extracurriculars, non-emergency medical, and religion. Physical custody refers to which parent physically has the child. Physical custody can be split 50/50 or one parent can have primary physical custody. If one parent has primary custody, the other parent, called the non-custodial parent, almost always has some scheduled parenting time (formerly called visitation).
Best Interests of the Child Standard
Custody is decided based on the best interests of the child. Georgia law prohibits a presumption of custody in favor of one parent based on gender. The best interests of the child can include anything the Court considers relevant, and the Court has broad discretion in making its decision. An attorney can advise you how a Court is likely to address the best interests of the child given the specific facts of your case. Georgia also has election laws where children 14 years or older can elect which parent he or she would like to primarily live with. A Court does not have to honor this election if it can be shown that the election is not in the best interests of the child, however, in practice, such elections are almost always honored.
The parties can agree on, or the Court can issue a Parenting Plan which spells out the division of legal and physical custody between the parties. The Parenting Plan also includes the parenting time schedule, which addresses how time will be spent with the children on a regular basis, during breaks from school, and on major holidays. If necessary, the Parenting Plan can also address additional provisions such as types and times of communication from the parent who does not have the child in his or her care, notice requirements if one parent moves, and restrictions on substance use while a parent has the child in his or her care, among other issues.
Parenting Time Schedules
A parenting time schedule is specific to the children and parties in a particular case. Geographic restrictions, parents’ work schedules, and the children’s needs all influence the schedule. There are some more commonly used schedules. A traditional schedule often refers to the non-custodial parent having every other weekend from Friday evening to Sunday evening, with or without a dinner or overnight in the opposite week. It has become increasingly common to use an extended weekend schedule where the non-custodial parent still has every other weekend, but the weekend starts as early as Thursday evening and continues as late as Monday morning. Joint physical custody, where the parties share time with the child on a 50/50 schedule, is also becoming more common. A 50/50 schedule usually occurs in one of two forms: with the parents alternating weeks they have the children or on a 2-2-5-5 schedule with one parent having the child every Monday and Tuesday night, the other parent having the child every Wednesday and Thursday night, and the parents alternating Friday through Sunday night. In cases where the parents live in different states, the non-custodial parent typically has most of the summer vacation, most holidays from school, and some regular time that is less than the traditional every other weekend schedule due to the travel involved. These schedules are by no means exhaustive, and the parties in settlement, or the Court at trial can be as creative as they need to be in creating a schedule.
Seeking Legal Help
The Ruthenberg-Marshall Law Firm can help you in seeking either primary custody or parenting time and can advise you on what parenting time schedule you should pursue given the facts of your case.
For help with your custody action, you can schedule a Legal Clarity Session with The Ruthenberg-Marshall Law Firm by calling 678-435-9069 or contacting us here.