Figuring out child custody during a divorce can be difficult. When a divorcing couple has minor children, they need to make a decision. Parents can make this decision on their own without having to go to court. This is best for all involved since the process often goes much faster and it can be less stressful. However, in most cases, divorcing spouses can’t reach consensus, so the court has to make a ruling. When you hear the term custody, you may assume it refers to which parent a child lives with. However, a decision must be made regarding two forms of custody – legal and physical.
The Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody
Legal custody assigns one or both parents the right to make key decisions concerning the child. A parent with legal custody can make determinations regarding the child’s health, education, and religion. Where joint custody is concerned, each parent may be allowed to have the final say on a different matter. For example, the mother may be able to make decisions regarding health while the father decides on education. This is intended to reduce some of the conflict which may arise between the parents.
Meanwhile, physical custody determines which parent gets to live with the child. This parent doesn’t automatically get legal custody. The judge awards physical custody based on which environment would be most suitable for the child. In Albany and elsewhere in Georgia, children age 11 and up get to say where they would be most comfortable living. Depending on the situation, the judge may agree with them, but this doesn’t always happen. However, children who are age 14 or over often get to live with the parent they choose. When one parent is awarded custody, the other parent usually gets visitation rights.
The court focuses on what is ideal for the child. Sometimes, the court appoints a custody evaluator to assist. This person studies the parents and their environments to determine what is in the child’s best interests. The judge has the authority to overrule the advice of the evaluator. Some of the things the judge will look at include:
- The physical environments in the parents’ homes
- The parents’ ability to meet the child’s basic needs
- The physical and mental health of each parent
- The level of involvement each parent has in the child’s life
- The parents’ ability to spend time with the child and build a strong relationship
- The parents’ criminal record or history of alcohol and drug abuse, if relevant
If you’re in the middle of making custody arrangements, you need to work with a lawyer who handles divorce cases in Albany. You will need to submit a parenting plan to the court and getting legal advice can make a big difference.
What Needs to Be Included in the Parenting Plan
The parenting plan spells out how divorcing spouses will share responsibilities relating to the child. Parents can file a joint parenting plan if they agree on all the issues. Otherwise, they can submit separate plans. While a standard form is used for these plans, the information needs to be specific to your family. Some of the things which are usually in the plan are:
- How the child will spend birthdays, holidays, school breaks and other special occasions
- How each parent will get the child to the other and how transportation costs will be paid
- Whether supervised visitation is necessary
- How the parents will make decisions on the child’s health, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities.
- If there are any limitations on one parent contacting the child when the other has physical custody
Contact Joe Durham Jr., P.C. For Help With Child Custody During a Divorce
Our divorce law firm in Albany, GA can assist you with figuring out child custody during a divorce. Whether you and your spouse agree on a custody arrangement or you’re at odds, we’ll ensure your interests are represented. We’ll do everything we can to ensure the outcome is one which is ideal for the child. We’ve handled many divorce cases and we know emotions can run high. Our attorneys take a rational approach to each case and we remind parents that their child’s welfare is at stake.
Where possible, we encourage divorcing spouses to make as many decisions as they can on their own. That’s better than allowing a judge who is a stranger to decide what happens. However, we know that’s not always possible and sometimes to court has to make the decision. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and we’ll work with you to make the best decision for your family.