Recognizing the important role both parents play in the lives of their children, Georgia law encourages parents to "share in the rights and responsibilities of raising" their children after a divorce or dissolution of a relationship. Georgia has adopted the public policy of ensuring that children continue to have contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in their children’s best interests.
Unfortunately, the "best interests of the child" is open to interpretation and both sides have their own ideas. For that reason, child custody is often at the center of contested divorces.
Warner Robins child custody and visitation attorney Lynn Hamilton Johnson takes the best interest of the child to heart and approaches every case with two primary goals: put the needs of the children first and give both parents a chance to maintain meaningful relationships with their children.
There are two major areas of child custody, physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody rulings determine which parent the child will reside with primarily and legal custody addresses which parent will have make the final decisions on matters related to a child’s upbringing such as medical and education decisions.
Physical custody arrangements can be made by agreement of the parties (subject to court approval) or directly by the judge presiding over the case. In addition, depending upon a child’s age, the court will consider the desire of the children involved (usually by a child’s election) in making the final determination of custody. In every case, the best interests of the child or children involved must be considered by the court before any physical custody arrangement is ordered or approved by the court.
The non-custodial parent is generally allowed regular visitation to ensure that the child has equal access to both parents. We are experienced in working out these visitation plans to the benefit of the children and their parents.
As stated before, the "best interest of the child" is a broad term, open to interpretation and dispute. In contested cases our Houston County courts often appoint custody evaluators known as guardian ad litems (GALs) to make this determination. A guardian ad litem, usually an attorney or a mental health professional, represents neither parent in the dispute, and is charged with determining to the best of his or her ability the true best interests of the child. Learn more about GALs
With authority granted by the court, the guardian ad litem investigates the background of the parents, living conditions and family relationships of the child, along with any related matters, before making a recommendation to the court. The guardian can make home visits and speak with anyone in person, by phone, or any other method of communication. The guardian can also, with the court's help, subpoena witnesses to testify and to appear in court.
The guardian uses this information to recommend the placement, visitation, custody, or other arrangement that would be in the best interests of the child. The guardian usually makes a report to the court recommending a specific outcome. This recommendation is not binding and the parties may also present their own witnesses and evidence in court.
Areas of Expertise
Lynn Hamilton Johnson is experienced in these intricate matters and tailors her strategy to each case. She will make every effort to help parents reach custody agreements, she will also fight aggressively on behalf of her clients in court if necessary.
We can help you with any of the following issues:
- Temporary custody
- Legal custody
- Physical custody
- Termination of parental rights
- Enforcement and modification of child custody and child support orders
- Grandparent visitation
Georgia law gives grandparents the right to ask a court for visitation with their grandchildren. Grandparents can exercise this right in one of two ways.
First, grandparents may file their own, original court action for visitation with their grandchild. However, there are some limitations to this general rule: they may only file an original action for visitation once every two years, and they can't seek visitation with a grandchild who lives with both parents, if the parents have not separated.
Alternatively, grandparents can "intervene" (join) as a party to an existing legal action including:
- any action concerning the custody or visitation rights of their minor grandchild, including a divorce action between the child's parents
- an action for termination of either parent's parental rights, and
- an action for adoption of the child by a step-parent or blood relative.
Lynn Hamilton Johnson also represents clients who, due to a variety of factors, need to have access to their grandchildren or who need to step in as primary care providers.
Georgia law requires a formal parenting plan be incorporated into the final decree. The plan must meet several requirements before being approved by the court and made a part of the final decree. Parenting plans may be agreed upon by both parties and submitted jointly. If the parties cannot agree on a proposed plan, both parties may submit separate plans for the court to consider. If the parties submit separate plans, the judge will make the ultimate decision considering both proposals and the best interests of the child.