Best Interests of the Child
LEGAL GUIDANCE IN ATLANTA FOR FAMILY LAW MATTERS
When dealing with child custody and related matters in divorce, including physical custody, visitation rights, and even guardianship and adoption, family courts will apply a legal standard called “the best interests of the child.” The meaning of this standard is not exact, but it can be evaluated by reference to several more concrete factors, and a Georgia family court will look at these factors in reaching a decision. If you need advice and assistance on how this standard may be applied in your particular case, you can consult the family law attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas C. Rowsey. We assist Atlanta residents and other individuals throughout Georgia in safeguarding their future and the future of their children.
APPLYING “THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD” STANDARD
In resolving child custody issues, it is often difficult for parents and courts to formulate a solution that is entirely satisfactory to the parents, let alone to the children. However, it is the policy of Georgia that the interests of minor children are paramount in divorce, and consequently the state has adopted a subjective standard for deciding custody issues that is labeled “the best interests of the child.”
Georgia family courts must resolve custody issues despite the fact that their knowledge of the family situation is based on a superficial familiarity with its members and their history, and despite the fact that they may receive conflicting information from the parties involved. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the court is obliged to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Moreover, it is only the court’s determination, in the end, that matters.
While the phrase “the best interests of the child” is itself vague, the law delineates a long list of factors that the court must review and consider. No single factor is determinative, but the court may give greater weight to one or another factor if the situation warrants it. For example, a parent may be loving and generous, but if he or she has a substance abuse problem, that factor likely will weigh heavily against him or her.
Title 19 of Georgia’s Domestic Relations Law denotes 17 specific factors that the court may consider, including the closeness of the relationship between each parent and the children, the closeness of the relationship between the child and other siblings or step-siblings, and the ability of each parent to provide the child with love, affection, and guidance. Other factors include each parent’s familiarity with the child’s needs and disposition, the ability of each parent to provide for the daily care and needs of the child, the home environment provided by each parent, the importance of maintaining continuity and stability in the child’s life, and the stability of each parent’s family and the support provided by the family. A court also is permitted to evaluate:
- The health of each parent, physically and mentally;
- How each parent has historically interacted with the child with respect to education, social life, and other activities;
- Each parent’s employment schedule and ability to adjust work schedules to meet a child’s needs;
- The history of the child in terms of home life, school, and community, and whether the child has any special needs;
- The history of each parent regarding his or her parental responsibilities;
- The willingness of each parent to promote a close and continuing relationship between the children and the other parent;
- Any recommendations of a court-appointed guardian or evaluator; and
- Any history or evidence of substance abuse, or of sexual, mental, or physical abuse, or a criminal history of either parent.
- The court also is generally permitted to use its discretion to consider any other factors it considers relevant.
SEEK REPRESENTATION FROM AN ATLANTA ATTORNEY IN A CHILD CUSTODY DISPUTE
Divorce is often difficult, and one of the most difficult aspects may be dealing with child custody. The emotional stress of the entire process on both parents can cause them to develop divergent views of what is best for their children. When this happens, it is critical to obtain knowledgeable legal advice, particularly in light of the fact that it will be the court, and not the parents, who has the final say in child custody issues. People from Atlanta and the surrounding cities can contact the child custody lawyers at Rowsey & Stelter to discuss their needs and goals. Call us at (770) 993-5317, or use our online form to set up a free consultation. We also represent residents of communities such as Alpharetta, Roswell, Milton, and Johns Creek.