When a marriage ends, the former couple may have no reason to remain in contact. Divorcing parents, however, continue to have an obligation to their children and will have to learn to work together, regardless of their feelings for each other.
Though maintaining a relationship with your former spouse may not be at the top of your "to-do" list, it is important for the sake of your children to put aside your feelings and do what is best for them. If you are heading to court to settle the custody of your children in Georgia, here are some important facts for you to consider.
If you can, come prepared with a parenting plan
Arriving at court with a parenting plan already worked out between you and the other parent is a very good way to begin the proceedings. An amicable agreement may hasten the process and time saved in court usually means money saved too. Items to work into the plan should include:
- A parenting schedule detailing who the children will be with for each day of the year
- Plans for holidays and vacations
- Agreements about hand-off locations and transportation
- Arrangements for contact between parents when required during visitations
A judge will generally consent to any well-thought-out parenting plan, so long as it does not unduly favor one parent over the other and if the best interests of the child are met.
Leaving it up to the judge
If a judge must settle the issue of custody, as with the parenting plan, he or she will ensure the child's best interests are the primary consideration in any ruling. The judge will listen to arguments and evidence presented by both parents and will award custody based on the health, comfort and safety of the child. Once awarded, a custody ruling is difficult to change, so parents should be prepared to make their best case.
Custody may be either sole or joint, depending on the relevant factors. A parent with sole custody has primary physical care of the child and can make all key parenting decisions without requiring the consent of the other parent. The non-custodial parent may still have access and visitation rights.
In a joint custody arrangement, both parents make important parenting decisions together. Physical custody may also be shared, sometimes equally.
Altering a custody arrangement
Once custody is established, it will take a significant change in the family situation for a judge to consider amending an arrangement. Every two years, either parent can petition the court for a modification, should circumstances warrant a review.
A child can request a change in custody once he or she has reached the age of 14. Should the child wish, additional requests could be made every two years until he or she achieves independence.
Pick a partner in planning for post-divorce parenting
While you may end up parenting alone, there's no need to make your plans by yourself. A skilled and experienced lawyer can help you avoid court, if possible, and formulate a suitable plan for your future and that of your kids. Should going to court be necessary, that same lawyer should be able to fight alongside you to protect your rights to continue to be a parent to your precious children.