“We don’t just know the law; we know how to go to trial and win.”
Experienced Child Custody Attorneys in Gainesville, GA and Braselton, GA.
Passionate and experienced representation for parents in child custody disputes.
Child custody disputes are the most difficult and challenging of all family law issues. When custody is at issue in a divorce, the anger and hostility that often accompany the deterioration of a marriage can complicate the process of reaching a constructive parenting plan. While most parents want to protect their children from the stress and pain that may accompany a divorce, parents going through a divorce are coping with their own pain, which can make the process of protecting one’s children more difficult. Child custody disputes that are part of a paternity action are frequently made more difficult by the financial pressure imposed by child support obligations, which are often contingent on the custody arrangement between the parents.
McLeod Law Firm, P.C. was founded by David McLeod, who has strong family values and is committed to protecting his client’s rights as a parent and their children’s best interests
While it is almost always best to reach an agreement for custody with the other parent, sometimes this is simply unrealistic. We will do all that we can to help you reach an agreement with the other parent to avoid the turmoil and anxiety of a high conflict custody dispute. If this proves to be unrealistic, we will help you protect your child’s best interest by zealously representing you in court. We know that nothing is more important than your relationship with your children, so we work hard to protect your parent-child relationship.
Types of custody and visitation issues we have experience handling include:
- Establishment of paternal relationships and support obligations
- High conflict custody disputes
- Temporary and permanent custody orders as part of a divorce
- Situations involving “red flag” issues like drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence, child abuse or criminal records
- Move-away or parent relocation cases
- Modification of custody or visitation orders
- Contempt for failing to comply with custody or visitation orders
Often parents feel even more anxiety when faced with a custody dispute because they are unfamiliar with the legal process. Below are answers to many common questions we receive.
What are the types if Child Custody?
There are two types of custody, “legal custody” and “physical custody.”
Legal custody refers to the responsibility for making major decisions about the children, including education, religious upbringing, non-emergency healthcare, and extracurricular activities. Legal custody can be sole or joint.
Physical custody refers to where the children live and how much time they spend with each parent. Physical custody can be sole, primary, or joint.
Potential Physical Custody Arrangements Under Georgia Law
Sole Physical Custody – Sole physical custody is where the children live only with one parent and the other parent has little to no visitation.
Primary Physical Custody – In a primary physical custody situation, the children live primarily with one parent and the other parent has visitation.
Joint Physical Custody – In a joint physical custody arrangement, the parents spend an equal amount of time with the children.
Some Georgia courts prefer joint custody and may order such an arrangement where both parents are generally available and there are no serious issues regarding the fitness of either parent. Joint custody will typically not be appropriate in the following situations:
- One parent works long hours or is on the road for extended periods of time.
- A parent has a history of abuse toward the children or their spouse.
- There are serious drug, alcohol, or domestic violence issues.
- The children have been living primarily with one of the parents for a long period of time.
- A parent because of physical or mental disabilities is unable to effectively care for the children’s needs.
- The parent has a criminal background with felony convictions particularly involving violence or sex offenses.
In situations like these, it is more likely that the other parent will be given primary or even sole physical custody. Depending on the specifics of the case and the seriousness of these issues, the court may even impose supervised visitation. A custody case with any of these issues is much more complicated so it is essential to seek an experienced Georgia child custody lawyer as soon as possible.
What is Uncontested Child Custody?
Uncontested child custody is where couples work together to achieve a child custody agreement that is suitable and acceptable to both parties. Family courts in Georgia prefer that parents reach an agreement on custody. This typically helps avoid conflict and stress, which can affect your children, and creates the foundation for a constructive co-parenting arrangement between you and the other parent in the future. A negotiated agreement that promotes a frequent and continuing relationship with both parents also can protect your children from feeling like a breakup means the loss of a parent.
Even if you reach an agreement with the other parent, the judge will still have to approve your custody arrangement. We can evaluate your agreement and advise you how the terms compare with what a court might decide, as well as warn you about any potential issues.
We also recognize that sometimes it is impossible for parents to agree, and we are prepared to employ our many years of experience and well-regarded courtroom advocacy to help you pursue the best possible result for you and your children.
What is Contested Custody?
Georgia’s Best Interest of the Child Legal Standard
Contested Child Custody is when parents are unable to agree on a custody arrangement. The court will then make orders regarding custody and visitation based on the “best interest of the children.” Pursuant to O.C.G.A. §19-9-3, the court will weigh a number of factors when making a child custody determination including:
- Emotional ties between the children and each parent as well as any siblings
- The ability and willingness of the parent to provide love, education, guidance, and support
- A parent’s knowledge and familiarity with the children’s needs
- The nurturing and safe nature of each parent’s home environment
- The length of time the children have lived in a stable environment with the parent and need for continuity
- The stability and support system of the parent
- The mental and physical ability of the parent to care for the children
- The degree of involvement of the parent in the children’s education and extracurricular activities
- A parent’s work schedule (i.e. availability and flexibility based on work demands)
- Any home, school or community record of the children (i.e. school performance is important)
- Past parenting and prospective future parenting ability
- Willingness to promote frequent and continuing contact with the other parent
- Any recommendations by a child custody evaluator
- Abuse, family violence or past criminal activity by the parent
- Evidence of a parent’s substance abuse
Even a cursory review of these factors makes it clear that absent certain “red flag” issues, the court is concerned with a parent’s proven ability and availability to care for the minor children. Georgia courts also look closely to the parent most likely to encourage the children’s relationship with the other parent. What this means is that there are certain positions taken by parents that will typically be viewed negatively. We have provided a couple of examples of situations involving otherwise fit parents that can hurt a parent’s request for primary custody:
Unrealistic 50-50 Custody Requests: A court may negatively view a parent who insists on having joint physical custody despite this request being unrealistic because of one’s work schedule. A parent who works 14 hours per day or is gone on business for weeks at a time will typically have their request for 50-50 physical custody viewed negatively. A judge is likely to view such a request as motivated primarily by concern about child support. This mistake is compounded when the solution offered by a parent is to leave the children for extended periods with a babysitter or new partner with whom the children do not have a long-established and close relationship. Georgia courts will most often choose to have the children in a fit parent’s care as opposed to another caregiver.
Attempts to Alienate the Children’s Affections: Courts pay close attention to the willingness of a parent to promote and preserve the children’s relationship with the other parent. If a parent openly attempts to alienate their children, by denigrating the other parent and/or discouraging the children from having telephone contact or parenting time, this can be a sufficient basis to tip the scales toward awarding the other parent primary physical custody.
Modification of Custody
People and circumstances change, and you may find that your original custody order is no longer in your children’s best interest. In Georgia, “[a] petition to change child custody should be granted only if the trial court finds that there has been a material change of condition affecting the welfare of the child since the last custody award.” Viskup v. Viskup, 291 Ga. 103, 105, 727 S.E.2d 97, 100 (2012). This is a fact-specific inquiry, so the court must consider each request for modification on a case-by-case basis.
Examples of situations where a modification of custody would be warranted would be the relocation of a parent out of state or if one parent is no longer suited to retain custody.
If you believe that your initial custody order should be modified, give us a call today to discuss the specific facts of your case.