Debunking Child Custody Myths
Parents getting divorced in Georgia should be familiar with common misunderstandings about child custody, child support and legal modifications.Divorce can be especially stressful for parents, given the serious impacts that this process inevitably has on children. Unfortunately, many parents in Atlanta may face unnecessary complications when divorcing because they have misunderstandings about the relevant laws. Considering this, most parents can benefit from recognizing and avoiding the following common misconceptions about state child custody and support laws.
1. The court always decides custody
Many parents may think that custody decisions are out of their hands during divorce. If parents cannot agree about how to share custody and visitation time, a judge will be tasked with deciding these issues. However, parents who can come to terms do have a right to cooperatively draw up a parenting plan that addresses these issues.
Typically, family law judges will honor the terms of a plan that both parents have agreed to. However, judges always must keep the best interests of the child in mind when awarding custody. Therefore, a judge may fail to approve a parenting plan if it appears to be detrimental to the child.
2. Child support obligations are arbitrary
Many aspects of a divorce settlement, including property division, alimony, child custody and visitation, are decided based on subjective guidelines. However, child support is calculated based on set formulas that take the following variables into account:
- The combined income of both parents
- The amount of income that each parent contributes
- The number of children who need support
Additionally, a judge may increase child support payments to address any special expenses associated with raising the child. These may include unusually high medical, educational or extracurricular costs.
3. Court orders cannot be changed
Divorcing parents may fight to secure certain settlement terms because they believe these arrangements are essentially permanent. However, custody and child support can both be legally modified. In Georgia, visitation rights can be reviewed every two years. Parents can seek custody modifications if there has been a substantial change in circumstances warranting a change in custody. Modification of child support is permitted when there is a material change in the income of either parent or in the needs of the child. The first modification of child support can be filed at any time, but any subsequent modifications of support are only allowed once every two years in most circumstances.
4. Child custody and support are connected
Many parents believe that child support and custody are interconnected areas of law. A parent’s status as the custodial or non-custodial parent usually does determine whether the parent is obligated to pay child support. However, child custody and support are otherwise separate. This means that a parent cannot withhold one if the second parent doesn’t comply with the terms of the other. For example, if one parent fails to pay child support, the other parent still must adhere to the parenting plan.
Avoiding harmful misconceptions
The laws that affect children and parenting arrangements during divorce can be complex. To reduce the risk of potentially problematic misunderstandings like these, parents in Georgia should consider consulting with an attorney early in the divorce process. An attorney may be able to help a parent understand the relevant laws and know what to expect from the legal process.