CHILD CUSTODY: BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD
HOW COURTS DECIDE CHILD CUSTODY CASES
All good parents want the best for their children. Family courts have the often difficult job of making a decision about child custody when parents can’t agree with each other whose “best” is the best. Over many years, courts and legislatures developed the BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD STANDARD. In Georgia, the Best Interests Standard has been formalized by the legislature. Under Georgia Law, judges must apply the standard when they make decisions about original custody orders or modifications to existing orders. Divis Law wants to help you understand this basic principle of child custody.
WHAT THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD STANDARD MEANS
In Georgia, the Best Interests Standard lives at O.C.G.A. 19-9-3. Under the law, the judge (not a jury) may not give any favor or presumption to one parent or the other. Instead, the judge must decide what is best for the child, and the judge has broad discretion to determine that. While the judge may look at any factor he or she determines to be relevant, the law provides some of the most common and important factors. This list does not limit the judge; the judge may look at any relevant factor. One way to visualize this is to imagine an old-fashioned balancing scale, with each parent on a side. The judge will consider positive and negative factors for each parent and weigh the total for each parent on this scale. Some of those factors include:
- The relationship between each parent and the child.
- The relationship between the child and any siblings or step-siblings in the household.
- The ability and willingness of each parent to give the child love, affection, guidance, and education.
- Each parent’s knowledge and familiarity with the child and the child’s needs.
- The ability and willingness of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other needs, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent.
- The home environment of each parent, considering the safey and nurturance of the child.
- The importance of continuity in the child’s life.
- The stability of the family unit of each parent, including each parent’s support system in the community.
- The mental and physical health of each parent.
- Each parent’s involvment in the child’s activities.
- Each parent’s employment schedule and any related limitations or flexibility.
- Each parent’s past performance and ability for future performance as a parent.
- Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.
- Any evidence of family violence or mental, sexual, or physical child abuse, or criminal history of either parent.
- The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Any other relevant information. This is NOT an exhaustive list!
HOW DOES THE COURT KNOW ALL OF THIS?
Evidence! You or your attorney need to show the court evidence. You will need to supply a lot of information both to the court and to the other party. There isn’t any other way. It is important in doing this to have a skilled family lawyer on your side because not all of the factors are going to weigh equally. Some will get more weight, others will get less. It is important to anticipate how the court will weigh each factor. Considering what is at stake, you don’t want to make a mistake. You want a strong advocate who is trained in family law on your side.
If you are concerned about a child custody matter, contact Divis Law today. We can help you understand why the court is doing what it is doing, and will fight to protect your custody rights and help you achieve the best outcome for you and your child. We will always stop to explain what we are doing for you and why. Schedule a consultation and let Divis Law help. You can schedule a free phone call or office visit, or $35 house call, using our online booking tool.