Before we move on to the Child Custody and Visitation “Do’s and Don’ts” – lets review a few very important Georgia Child Custody concepts.
Best Interest of Child(ren) Standard:
The “best interest of the children standard” is the application that Georgia divorce and family law judges use to determine which judgments to make regarding custody and parenting time in the light of presented evidence. Anything that is presented for a child’s best interest is usually what the court system will favor when making a decision between two positions. The courts have also generally determined in most cases that shared parenting time is in the best interest of the child—as it is important to have parental influence from both a mother and a father. Anything that may negatively impact the best interest of the child or may interfere with a child’s affection from either parent will be met with scrutiny by the court and the instigator of such behavior will likely face negative legal ramifications. Obviously, each opposing party and attorney may have a different opinion on what is in the best interest of the children. But if a case is not settled by the parties – one person, the Judge in your case, will determine the final outcome based on her or his decision on what is in the children’s best interest.
What is in the Children’s Best Interest?
In Georgia divorce and family law cases, a Superior Court Judge, or court appointed Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) may determine what is in a child’s best interest in terms of custody and visitation. Determining on the circumstances of the case a judge will issue what he or she believes to be in the child’s best interest concerning such matters.
Although it is not implicitly stated anywhere in the court order what a child’s best interest, below are a few general examples of things we have learned through experience that the parties should and should not do to promote the best interests of their children:
Child Custody and Visitation Do’s
• Spending extra time with your children: Time may not be limited to court order and if the parents can agree then a child will be able to exercise more equal parenting time with both parents- which the court has identified as beneficial. Extra time can also include attending extracurricular activities during the week or attending special events during the other parent’s custody time.
• Spending time with extended family: Spending time with extended family adds to a child’s sense of a family support network. Exposure to extended family can make a child feel more loved and can expand child care to others – increasing the family unit.
• Be flexible with parenting time and changes for special events: Remember you will get as much flexibility with this schedule as you permit for the other parent.
• Keep the other parent as informed as possible: Be sure to inform the other parent of any changes to schedule or upcoming special events concerning the child. A good way to do this is to email the other parent or to forward any emailed information sent to you directly to the other parent.
• Speak positively about the other parent: Always speak positively about the other parent and do not state anything even implying negativity about the other parent in front of the children. Anything negative you say can be considered Hostile Aggressive Parenting and can lead to Parental Alienation Syndrome.
• Prevent as much animosity as possible: Animosity will look negatively in court and the person instigating the negative action can be in violation of court order or can be subjected to punitive measures by the court.
Child Custody and Visitation Don’ts
• Do not alienate: The Courts take Hostile Aggressive Parenting and Alienation very seriously. If cases are suspected to contain alienation a child may be taken out of custody of the alienating parent and placed into the custody of the other parent.
• Do not speak negatively of the other parent in front of the child: Nothing good can come from insulting or talking bad about your children’s other parents.
• Do not discuss details of the court case with the children: If it is necessary to discuss matters with child consider their age and maturity level. Do not mention any details of the case with the children and explain that there is a need for a change to custody or parenting time and that is the reason that there is a legal case in the court system.
• Do not ask for the kids to spy: Asking a child to provide information is dangerous and it is likely that the other parent will find out if they are questioned against their interest. Furthermore, children may be placed in a situation where they may provide a parent false information to receive a particular reaction from a parent – gift incentives, love, or additional sympathy or comfort.
• Do not tape record children: If a child is old enough to give testimony to the court and the judge has decided that the testimony may be heard than the testimony is admissible; however, the courts generally frown upon children being involved in legal proceedings in any way. Tape recording children will only appear that a parent is attempting to use the child as weapons against the other parent by coercing them into false statements against the other parent.
• Do not make the children choose between parents: examples of this would be stating, “you either choose me or you choose him/her,” or “you can only have access to this toy/ item if you are with me.”
• Do not be unreasonable with scheduling alterations: This can be seen by the court for what it is, an unreasonable demand on the other parent and the child’s right to see both parent’s on a reasonable and regular schedule; and it may be a reason for the other parent to ask the court to modify visitation and/or custody.
• Do not move out if you plan to seek custody and were previously living within the family home: Do not leave the home without discussing with an attorney; it is generally advised to stay in the marital home with the children if at all possible.
• Do not take children to lawyer meetings or have them around during phone calls: During attorney or legal conversations it is almost impossible to have a conversation that does not include information that should not be witnessed by the children. Conversations can also incite emotional reactions and anger that should not be witnessed in relation to the phone call or as a reaction to something the other parent has done in relation to the court proceeding.
IF you are facing a child custody or visitation issue in the Alpharetta area, call 770-609-1247 to speak with one of our Alpharetta, Georgia divorce and family law attorneys.