WHAT IS THE STANDARD FOR DECIDING CHILD CUSTODY?
The general and overriding basis for the decision as to which parent should be awarded custody of a minor child or minor children is the “best interest of the child” standard. In Georgia, while a party may have a jury trial in a divorce case, the decision as to child custody is always made by the Judge. So it is important to know what factors the Judge takes into consideration when making the decision as to what is in the best interest of the child or children.
Factors When Deciding Custody
What are the factors which the Judge is to consider when making the child custody decision? The Judge may consider any relevant factor, that is, any factor which has to do with the best interest of the child. Such factors include the love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties between each of the parents and the child or children. It also includes the love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties between the child and his or her other siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings and the residence of such other children. The Court looks at the capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child.
Whether the father or mother are knowledgeable and familiar with the child and the child’s needs is another factor which the Court takes into consideration. Also important in the Court’s decision is the capacity and disposition of each of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, taking into consideration the potential payment of child support by one parent to the other parent. The Court looks at the home environment of each parent as to the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors.
The Court considers the importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity. Other factors the Court considers include the stability of the family unit of each of the mother and of the father and the presence or absence of each parent’s support systems within the community to benefit the child. The mental and physical health of the parents is a factor. The involvement of each of the parents, or lack of involvement, in the child’s educational, social, and extracurricular activities is considered.
The employment schedule of each parent, as well as, the flexibility or limitations of each of the parents to care for the child due to their jobs are also relevant. Also of interest is the home, school, and community record and history of the child, and any health or educational special needs of the child. The past performance of each parent and the relative abilities of each parent to perform future parenting responsibilities is to be taken into account. The willingness and ability of the mother and father to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the other parent and the child, consistent with the best interest of the child is considered in the determination.
Guardian Ad Litem
If there has been any family violence, the Court is to consider it, along with any sexual, mental, or physical abuse of the child. If a parent has a criminal record, the charges, facts, and disposition are considered. If either parent has had any substance abuse issues, this is also a component in the Judge’s ruling.
Sometimes the Court appoints an attorney called a “guardian ad litem” to investigate the case and make a recommendation to the Court regarding custody. The recommendation of the guardian ad litem is also taken into consideration. However, while the Court is to consider the recommendation of the guardian ad litem, the ultimate decision is up to the Judge, who is to take into consideration all relevant factors in determining what is in the best interest of the child or children.
The Court has an important job in making a determination of child custody. Of course, parents in a divorce or other custody matter may enter into an agreement as to child custody. Such an agreement subject to the review and approval of the Court, taking into consideration the best interests of the child or children. In most cases, an agreement by the parents will be approved. However, it is sometimes not possible for the parents to reach a mutual agreement, and then the parties must present all relevant factors for the Court to make its determination as to this important matter.
Contact a Marietta Family Law Attorney
For effective legal representation regarding child custody and visitation issues, call 770-795-9596 or contact us online to set up your initial consultation with a Marietta child custody attorney. For our clients’ convenience, we accept all major credit cards.