How To Identify The Best Interests Of The Child
When you are planning for a child custody case in Georgia, or if you are in the early stages of a child custody case in the Atlanta area, it is essential to know that child custody will ultimately be decided based on what is in the best interests of the child (or the children). Most states rely on “best interests” factors that are used to determine the appropriate child custody arrangement, and Georgia law has a list of factors to be considered to make this determination. Sometimes these factors are described as a “best interests of the child” test. It is important to know that the court does not necessarily apply all factors to a given case, and the court is likely to consider and weigh multiple factors rather than make a decision based on one single factor. Courts review the factors and apply them as appropriate on a case-by-case basis. In addition, a judge can consider any factors beyond those listed in the statute that the judge determines to be relevant to specifics of the case.
How can you identify the best interests of the child? Our Atlanta child custody attorneys have information to guide you.
Look at the Statute to Identify the Specific Statutory “Best Interests” Factors
The first step in identifying the best interests of the child in a child custody case is to look to the factors specifically listed in the statute. Georgia law expressly cites the following factors to be considered when determining what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child:
- The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
- The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children;
- The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child;
- Each parent’s knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child’s needs;
- The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent;
- The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
- The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
- The stability of the family unit of each of the parents and the presence or absence of each parent’s support systems within the community to benefit the child;
- The mental and physical health of each parent;
- Each parent’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the child’s educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
- Each parent’s employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
- The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
- Each parent’s past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
- The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child;
- Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
- Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
- Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.
Consider Any Additional Factors That May Be Relevant
Beyond the “best interests” factors expressly cited by Georgia law, the statute also explains that judges can consider other factors such as:
- Likelihood of the child’s safety, as well as risks of physical harm or other injuries to the child; and
- Desires of the child when the child is old enough (and the judge has discretion to decide how heavily to weigh the child’s preference).
As we noted above, the court can also consider any factor aside from those that are not cited in the statute if they are relevant to the child’s or the family’s circumstances. A Guardian ad Litem can also be appointed to investigate these factors and make a recommendation to the court.
Contact a Child Custody Attorney in Atlanta
Whether you have questions about the child custody process in Atlanta or require assistance with your child custody case, one of the experienced Atlanta child custody attorneys at Kaye, Lembeck, Hitt & French can assist you.