Child Custody – Atlanta Child Custody Lawyers, Georgia
One of the common arenas of dispute after divorce is child custody. Sometimes one parent wants to renegotiate custody or visitation arrangements that already have been handed down. Parents are most likely to seek custody changes (and to make threats about going back to court) when their ex-spouses remarry. It is easier to establish joint legal custody or equal-time visitation arrangements at the time of the initial divorce decree than it is to change sole custody declarations later on. Although the court may respond favorably to subsequent requests by the non-custodial parent for greater access to the child, often the court will not be willing to hear the case again unless proof of compelling circumstances can be shown.
When parents disagree over custody and visitation arrangements, the court often encourages or even mandates parents to try and resolve their differences through a divorce mediation program. As emphasized earlier, these mediation programs are often effective in resolving disputes in a way that minimizes distress for children. Polarizing court battles, as well as the stresses associated with psychological evaluations, often can be avoided. It is one thing for parents to fight over money and property in court; it is highly disruptive for children when parents are fighting over them. The adversarial court process dramatically increases parental hostilities, which translates directly into adjustment problems for children.
Joint legal custody and more equally shared parenting plans have solved some problems and created new ones. These plans have provided a beneficial new middle ground that encourages both parents’ participation in raising their children. However, joint custody and equal access arrangements are no panacea for the significant problems that divorce arouses. Joint custody will not work for many families, especially if parents are combative. “Joint legal custody, ” in which children have a primary residence but parents share responsibility for making important decisions, is often the preferred arrangement. Joint custody is a beneficial new approach that works well for most cooperative parents, and it can succeed if parents, who may not get along well with each other, are able to shield children from parental conflict.
Joint custody has also been widely misunderstood. The principal misunderstanding about joint custody is the confusion between joint legal custody (shared responsibility for important decisions regarding children) and joint physical custody (visitation or access schedules). Joint custody does not mean a fifty-fifty split in which former spouses are bound by law to equally share the time spent with their children. Nor do children have to move between two homes on alternate weeks, or for alternate six-month stays, or any other rigid enforcement of equal time. Joint legal custody simply legally defines both parents as having equal power and authority in making decisions affecting their children (for example, education, medical care, religious affiliation, general welfare). By giving parents this equal role, joint legal custody validates both the father’s and the mother’s continued parental role and encourages both parents to remain actively involved in the children’s lives.
Within this joint legal framework, parents can then make any physical custody plans (access arrangements or visitation schedules) they wish. Some parents may wish to fully share child care on a fifty-fifty basis; most do not. Again, although many different coparenting arrangements are possible, the guiding principle in all determinations should be (1) continuity of child—parent relationships and (2) protection of children from exposure to parental conflict.
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