DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance is recommended
Filing Fee: Varies from county to county and depends on parent’s ability to pay
In Georgia, if the parents are unwed, only the mother is deemed the parent at birth. If the parents are married, both parents are deemed the parental units associated with the child and have legal custody rights. The father, in the unwed scenario, must sign a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement form in order to ensure continuing father’s rights as the relationship continues. It is the first step in setting up the precedent when it comes to potential custody problems down the line.
The Georgia legal system takes into account many factors when setting up custody.
• The wishes of the parents
• The wishes of the child
• The feasibility of continued interaction with the child’s parents, siblings and other prominent, positive influences on the child’s life
• The location of the home to the current school and community where the child lives
• If the parent is attempting to set up residence outside the state of Georgia
• Mental and physical health of child and parents
• Considerations regarding the parents compliance with orders and visitation schedules
• Whether either parent has been convicted of a crime that directly impacts the child’s welfare
Many states have moved to attempting to provide joint custody in as many cases as possible. Georgia makes an attempt to give the child the most stable home life possible, which might mean more extended visitation rather than true joint custody. The goal is to get the parents of the child to come to the initial hearing prepared and ready to give a complete plan for the care of the child. This helps to avoid future problems with the setup and tends to keep the cases from returning to court.
Step 1: Prepare for Child Custody Hearing
For the initial child custody hearing that goes along with closing out your divorce you should fully detail your expectations. You should sit down with the other parent and make a schedule that accounts for each day of the year and a breakdown of how holidays will be handled from year to year. The proposal should cover all transportation arrangements and establish clear drop-off points. Including a “communication agreement” is helpful as it states how a parent may contact the child or children when in the custody of the other parent. All of these details make it easier for you in the long run. Remember that once your child turns 14, in the state of Georgia, he or she can choose whom to live with.
Step 2: File for Jurisdiction
In the case of revising the custody agreement and suing for more custody than you currently have you have to determine jurisdiction. In other states the paperwork must be filed in the county where the child currently resides. In Georgia, you can file in your county if the other parent is amenable and will waive jurisdiction. If this is contentious, you will have to file in the county where the child resides. You will file a “Complaint for Change of Custody” to begin this process.
Step 3: Proposed New Custody Arrangement
While you can break down the custody however you like, there are three choices in Georgia regarding what you are filing for. First, sole legal and physical custody. Second, shared legal custody and sole physical custody. Finally, shared legal custody and shared physical custody. This can be the same as the current custody arrangement but you must fill in the paragraph regarding how you are wanting the judge to change what the current custody arrangement is. While people often choose to alter custody on their own, putting it in writing is the best way to protect your rights.
Step 4: Complete the Affidavit(s)
You have to complete the Plaintiff’s Affidavit, which goes over all the history of the custody and will include any complaints or legal concerns you have with the current custody arrangement. The second affidavit is for a child who is choosing to live with another parent after the age of 14. This must be filled out as well if this is the reason for the filing.
Step 5: Prepare the Financial Documents
While many states have a sliding scale to determine financial obligations, Georgia actually provides the parents with a calculator. For any change to the custody arrangement, financial documents must be submitted in order to provide for adequate financial care for the children and the custodial parent.
Step 6: File the Complaint
In many other states it is your responsibility to ensure the other spouse receives the complaint. In Georgia you simply need to file the complaint with the clerk of the court. You should have the original and two copies, one will be for you, the original will stay with the court and the third will be sent to your spouse by the court.
Step 7: Hearing with the Court
This is only necessary in Georgia if there are questions or if the filing is being contested. An uncontested custody arrangement can just be approved by the judge and sent back to you by mail.
Step 8: Custody Order
Whether you receive this in the mail or you go to a hearing, the new custody agreement only takes effect once the judge signs it and the final order is filed in the case. From there it is the responsibility of the parents to comply with the modified court order or the original custody agreement if this is the first time through the process.
Step 9: Enforcing the Order
Be sure you follow the order exactly and if there are any deviations that you keep solid records of missteps. If you ever have to file again you will want a log of all the transgressions.