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What Factors Are Considered in Determining Best Interests of a Child?

When you’re talking best interest of the child, statutorily under the law, there are about 30 different factors that the court is going to look at. They don’t usually enumerate them, or tell you what they are at that time, but in reality, they are just using their gut to make a determination. They’re going to want to look at things about who can provide the child with a stable environment, which parent has stable housing and is not moving from residence to residence, and whether they’ve got a support system established, in terms of other family members, that can help for the care of the child, medical care, and can have a loving relationship with the child. Primarily, what they are looking for is a parent who is not going to subject the children to some sort of harm.

The big red flag items that will sway a court are first they’re going to look at whether one of the parents has any issues with alcohol or drugs, and whether they have a criminal record. The court will also look at whether their lifestyle subjects the kids to unsafe other persons, and whether their new boyfriend or girlfriend brings negative life experiences to the situation. Primarily, the court uses what’s called a Guardian Ad Litem to investigate those, so they’ll go out and speak to the parents, school, teachers, and other family members. Their goal is to try to present a picture about what life would be like with mom, what life would be like with dad, and here’s why we think that the child should live with whomever. They provide information for the court, to hopefully make a decision on what’s in the best interest of the child. Once the judge makes that decision, there is not a lot of ability to change their mind, unless there’s been a really big change in the circumstances.

At What Age Does The Court Consider The Preference Of A Child In Determining Custody?

In Georgia, when the child reaches the age of 11, the court has to take into consideration what the child wish is but it’s not controlling. So the child can voice their opinion about who they would like to live with but the judge can override that. Once the child reaches the age of 14, however, they get the absolute right, very limited circumstances where it would be overridden, to live with the parent they choose. So I call that the election. Once a child reaches the age of 14, he or she can decide if they want to live with mom or dad and that is I’d say controlling about 99% of the time.

How Is It Determined Which Parent Will Pay Child Support?

In most situations, one parent is the custodial parent, which is the parent who is responsible for the child’s day-to-day activities, and where the child’s sleeps during the majority of the time. The other party, what I can refer to as the non-custodial parent, is responsible for paying child support. Courts generally don’t have a whole lot of discretion with regard to ordering it, and most judges won’t even decide a case unless the parties have made provisions for that. But it’s always the non-custodial parent, the one who doesn’t have the majority of the visitation time, who pays child support.

How Is The Actual Amount Of Child Support Calculated?

The amount that you paid for child support is determined by what’s called a Child Support Worksheet. This is a document that is put out statewide and is adjusted every year. What it does is it looks at the gross income of both parties—mom’s money before taxes and dad’s money before taxes—combine those two amounts, and then based upon the number of children that they have together, there is a spreadsheet that determines X number of dollars is going to be used for the raising of that child. It does this on a monthly basis. If mom makes $3,000 a month and dad makes $2,000 a month, they combine that to find out there’s $5,000 each month that’s been brought in. If there are two children, it spits out a number saying, say, $1,200 will be used for the support of the child. It then backs that up and makes the parties responsible for their portion of that.

If mom’s $3,000 represents three-fifths of the amount of money coming in each month, then she will be responsible for paying the three-fifths of the amount of child support. That’s in essence how it gets determined. There are a bunch of deviations that you can ask for to change that amount. For example, if one party is paying for a private school, health insurance, extraordinary medical expenses, those are things that can lower the amount of support that they are required to pay. In addition, those types of things can also increase the amount of the other party’s responsibility to pay. At any time, once child support is set, you can go back to modify it if there’s a change in one of those numbers. Basically, if one of the parties has received a new job and is making considerably more money, more than a 10% increase in income, you can go back to the court to modify that amount. That frequently happens.

You also modify it in a situation where if one of the children ages out of support. If you have two children, and one is 17 and one is 13, and dad’s paying child support, once the 17 years old turns 18, that support obligation goes away. Unfortunately, in Georgia law, it doesn’t automatically go away. The dad actually has to file a modification action to have the court order that he’s no longer responsible for that child because he’s become an adult, and needs to adjust the amount of child support that’s being paid for the other minor child who is still 13. That’s how you modify the support. Change in income, either up or down by either party, or a big change in expenses for either party can result in a modification.

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