Parenting a Broken Home (Visitation) – Part 2

When you are looking at the type of visitation that would be appropriate for children of divorcing or separated parents, you should recognize that there is no set in stone schedule that is right for every child. Children differ in how long they are comfortable being away from each parent.  Some children prefer spending more time with their custodial parent; others move back and forth between parents with relative ease. Parents have to be considerate to the needs of a child when scheduling and exercising their visitation.  They may need to tolerate disruption of their own schedule, and spend more or less time with their children than they might otherwise prefer in order to provide a child with a sense of security.  Parents also have to truly recognize the relationship they share with their child.  If a parent hasn’t spent a lot of time with a child during a marriage, then it is not unreasonable for that parent to need to build up their relationship with the child before practicing a parenting schedule that awards them a substantial amount of time.  As the child adjusts, it may be beneficial to change to a more liberal visitation plan.

In order for any visitation plan to succeed, both parents have to be willing to cooperate with each other.  In doing that, they have to encourage the child to communicate with the other parent as much as possible.  This can be done by telephone, email, letter, or any other form of communication that fits the situation.  This will allow the child to maintain a connection and a relationship with the parent when they are physically away from each.  The process of building strong emotional ties to a caregiver is very important to children in that it provides a sense of security, it provides for an emotional and social adjustment, and it aides in developing a close loving and trusting relationship between the parent and child.

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Parenting a Broken Home (Visitation) – Part 1

When children are involved in domestic matters, it is often a source of contention as to how much time a parent is going to get with their kids. When there aren’t any extraneous circumstances concerning the non-custodial parent and the child, standard visitation schedules seem to be an appropriate starting point to provide contact. Standard visitation is often looked at as overnights from Friday to Sunday, alternating holidays, and extended time during the summer months. When the bond between the child and the non-custodial parent are strong, additional visitation should be considered and implemented. But, varying things happen when the situation between the parent and child are not ideal, or there are special circumstances that challenges the normal visitation schedule.

Decisions about access to children can depend on many circumstances. Age is one of the most important factors that should be considered. But when considering the types of schedules that should be implemented, both parties need to be reminded that positive involvement with both parents furthers children’s emotional, social and academic development. The Court prefers that parents reach agreements about schedules voluntarily in that they are more likely to remain cooperative as the children age. Thus, when at all possible, the parents of the involved children should be the ones to decide on how they intend on raising the children, not the judicial system. When the courts become involved, parents often lose control as to the role each party will play in the development of their children’s lives. A workable system between parents is usually preferred to what is dictated and required by a judge that is a stranger to the children at issue.

Georgia Child Support Guidelines

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Many people have the misapprehension that the Georgia child support laws were changed to be more beneficial to men.  This is a common misconception that I often hear from clients as they enter into a custody matter.  The laws weren’t changed to, per se, be more beneficial to men or women.  However, it was altered in effect to be fair and equitable to both parties in respect to their financial circumstances.

Before 2007, in order to determine the child support due to a custodial parent, the courts would take a certain percentage (based on the number of children) of the non-custodial parent’s gross income.  Now, the child support guidelines take into account not only one person’s income for the determination of an award, but both parents’ incomes are used to derive the basic child support obligation due to the custodial parent. A determination of the parties’ income is typically where one would begin in a child support case.  Income includes salary, commission, bonuses, fringe benefits, interest income, dividend income, civil judgments, gifts, and the like.  Once the incomes of the parties are determined, it is inserted into Schedule A of the Child Support Worksheet.

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. §19-6-15, the Georgia legislature has stipulated the amount it takes to raise children given the parties’ combined gross income.  For example, if Mom earns $3,000 per month, and Dad earns $4,000 per month, the lawmakers have determined that the amount to support one child is $1,067 between both parents. This amount can be found within the child support code section, which lists the obligation for parents up to the combined income reaching $30,000 per month.  After that amount, it is within the court’s discretion to raise the obligation between both parents.  However, in the example above, with a combined gross income of the parties reaching $7,000, the amount that the parents would be obligated to support their child is $1,067.  The custodial parent would typically have to pay nothing since they have the child with them a majority of the time.  The non-custodial parent would be obligated to pay his or her pro rata share of the $1,067. For instance, in this example, Mom earns 43% of the gross income of the parties ($3000/$7000).  Therefore, her portion of the child support would be 43% of $1,067, or $457.  This would be Mom’s basic obligation for support.

Once the basic obligation for support is determined, it can be adjusted and deviated from.  One should differentiate between the terms adjustment and deviation. Under the child support laws, the courts have a mandatory adjustment to the basic obligation for child support, while they have the discretion to deviate from the amount given a certain set of circumstances. The mandatory adjustment comes in Schedule D of the Child Support Worksheets.  Schedule D accounts for costs incurred for health insurance and daycare.  The statute provides that a child’s portion of their insurance premium (not vision or dental) has to be taken into consideration, and the basic child support obligation must mandatorily adjust accordingly.  In addition, the same must be done for child care costs incurred that are necessary for the parent’s employment, education or vocational training. The expenses must also be appropriate to the parent’s financial abilities and to the lifestyle of the child if the parents and child were living together.

Discretionary deviations appear in Schedule E of the Child Support Worksheets. The guidelines present a rebuttable presumption of the proper amount of child support in a case.  These deviations provide the grounds under which you can rebut the presumptive amount of support.  There are several things the courts can consider when determining to deviate from the basic child support obligation.  Some of these expenses include private schools, life insurance, alimony paid, extraordinary education expenses, extraordinary medical expenses, etc. Parenting time is also another deviation the courts can consider when altering the basic child support obligation. After all these factors are considered, the court can either increase or decrease the amount of child support due to the custodial parent.

Litigants need to be aware in the beginning that the new guidelines do not necessarily mean that the obligating parent’s support will be less than it was under the old guidelines.  You must consider that not only has the legislature established the basic amount of child support given the parent’s income, but if you have children that require day care or after school care, that amount must be reflected in the child support worksheets, and will automatically increase the obligation if that care is for the purposes of employment or education. Additionally, the basic child support obligation will be increased by inputting the amount spent on health care premiums for the children subject to the child support order.  Therefore, while the basic child support obligation for a party may be less than what was required under the new guidelines, one should be reminded that these mandatory adjustments have to occur.  Once you consider the mandatory adjustments, you must also be aware of the possible deviations that can be added to the child support obligation.  In order to get a better grasp on the guidelines and the child support laws, go to http://www.georgiacourts.org/csc/ and familiarize yourself with the worksheets and information provided on the website. This should be a useful tool one can utilize when attempting to get a basic understanding of the obligations they face for the support of their minor children.

If a little more guidance is required, feel free to check me out at (www.smithfamlaw.com) and submit a contact request, or call my office for further assistance.