Custody is a complicated matter. There are several steps in the Georgia custody process, which begins with one parent filing for custody.
Once a custody petition is filed, the other parent is served the petition. The next step is filing a parenting plan.
If you agree on your custody arrangement, you can file your parenting plan together and submit it to a court where it becomes a custody order. When you do not agree, you file separate parenting plans.
From there, the court may require you to attend mediation to try to settle your case. Georgia courts typically prefer that parents resolve their custody cases between themselves through negotiation or mediation.
It is usually in your best interest to settle your case. Settling saves you time and money and although you may not walk away with everything you wanted, you will likely be happier with an outcome you had a say in rather than leaving it up to a judge.
However, sometimes settling is simply not possible and the case is decided at a custody hearing. A court usually schedules both a hearing and a pre-trial hearing.
A pre-trial hearing is a meeting between you, your co-parent, your lawyers and the custody judge. The purpose is to have one final formal discussion about any unresolved issues and see if they can be resolved. If not, the case proceeds to a hearing.
If you have never participated in a custody hearing before, it helps to know what to expect.
The hearing is an opportunity for you and your co-parent to present evidence to support your case. You do this through testimony and exhibits.
Direct and cross-examination
The parent who filed the custody petition usually presents their case first. They testify to what they are looking for and why. This is called direct examination. They can then present witnesses to testify on their behalf and exhibits to support their position.
Exhibits are documents or other physical items. Common exhibits in custody cases include photographs of a parent’s household or the parent interacting with the child.
After this, cross-examination begins. This is a question or series of questions to the parent who just testified that are designed to weaken their case.
For example, a parent could testify about how their household provides a stable and healthy environment for the child. On cross-examination, the other parent or their attorney could question the parent about a recent domestic violence incident that occurred in their home, to show that their testimony may not have been entirely true.
Once direct and cross-examination are finished, the other parent has a chance to present their case in the same manner.
The judge may also ask questions of you or your co-parent to gain a better understanding of the situation.
Courts usually award shared custody
There are several factors that a judge examines when making custody decisions. Some factors are given more weight than others, but if you are seeking custody, your overall goal is to show that your custody proposal is in the best interest of your child.
Although you have a right to a custody hearing, courts usually prefer to give both parents some custody. A shared custody schedule is often awarded, since it is assumed that equal time with each parent is in a child’s best interest.
This is something to strongly consider before deciding that you want to go forward with a custody hearing. If you do, it is important to be prepared and know how to properly present your case.