Family law attempts to bring order and rational solutions to domestic problems often contentious and emotionally charged. The focus of family law is on resolving the issues between people arising out of the family relationship, including children. And family law can protect vulnerable family members.
The caring professionals at Cheeley Legal in Buford are dedicated to assisting families through the domestic changes they may face and help plan for a better future. For assistance with a family law issue in Metro Atlanta, contact Cheeley Legal today.
Typical Family Law Matters
Most family law matters are of a civil (non-criminal) nature and involve establishing or enforcing rights between various family members.
Common domestic issues governed by family law include:
- Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
- Separation Agreements
- Divorce – property division, spousal support (alimony), child custody, child support
- Legitimation – establishing the rights of fathers
- Paternity – establishing the responsibilities of fathers
- Protective Orders – family violence
- Custody and Support Modifications
- Grandparent or Relative Visitation
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Agreements before and during marriage allow partners to agree ahead of time on most issues to be resolved in a divorce. In Georgia, premarital, or “antenuptial,” agreements address how property will be divided in the event of a divorce.
A postnuptial or separation agreement determines most issues to be decided in a divorce when the parties want to resolve those issues while they attempt to reconcile.
Georgia does not recognize a formal legal separation. However, if a couple has separated – even if they have only ceased marital relations and still live under the same roof – the law allows one spouse to sue for separate maintenance.
A separate maintenance order functions like a separation agreement and is enforceable by a superior court’s contempt powers. Either party may convert a pending separate maintenance case into a divorce.
Divorce and Child Custody in Georgia
Georgia is a no-fault divorce state, meaning there is no need to spell out the exact reasons for getting out of the marriage. It is sufficient for one party to claim that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Georgia has a six-month residency requirement to file. A court cannot grant a divorce until 31 days have passed since the petition was served.
In a divorce, the property and debts acquired during the marriage are equitably, or fairly, divided. And if a spouse needs alimony from the other spouse for financial support, the court will determine that issue based on need and ability to pay.
If the parents have minor children, legal and physical custody and parenting time, or visitation, must be determined as well as child support payments.
An uncontested divorce is the fastest and least expensive way to end a marriage. A divorce is considered uncontested if the parties have an agreement on all issues before filing for divorce.
A contested divorce takes longer to resolve and is more expensive than an uncontested divorce. If the parties cannot agree on some or all issues arising out of the marriage, the court must decide the issues.
Collaborative divorce takes more of a business approach to divorce. Similar to mediation, a collaborative divorce may include financial and other experts who help couples reach an amicable solution.
Mediation and Arbitration
As “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR), mediation and arbitration are non-judicial forums where a third party either mediates between the parties and their attorneys to agree, or decides the issues much like a judge would. ADR is more private, less formal and less expensive than going to court.
Legitimation is the process of legally recognizing the father of a child born out of wedlock. Until the biological father establishes his relationship to the child, the mother has sole custody rights. An order of legitimation establishes the legal rights between a father and child, including the rights of inheritance, and the duty of child support. Visitation issues may also be decided. The father will be listed on the child’s birth certificate, and the child’s name will be specified.
The alleged father, mother, placement relative, the child, or the State may file a petition to determine the paternity of the child. The court may order genetic testing. The sole effect of a paternity order will be the duty of support.
The legal process of adopting a person into a family is usually pleasant, because it is working toward an outcome benefiting all parties. The types of adoption include third-party, stepparent, relative and adult adoptions. The effect of an adoption is the termination of all legal relationships between the adopted person and relatives, including inheritance and statutory rights, and the creation of the parent and child relationship as if the child were the parent’s biological child. Adoptions are technical, and great care must be given to ensure all requirements are completed.
Child Custody and Support Modifications
A parent may modify custody, visitation or parenting schedules where there has been a change in circumstances warranting a change in the best interest of the child.
For child support, if there has been a change in the income or financial status of either parent, the court may increase or decrease the support amount.
Family Member’s Visitation Rights
Grandparents, aunts, and uncles rarely have the legal right to visit their grandchildren. When a child is living with both parents who are not separated, the law allows parents to determine any visitation rights of grandparents. However, when a child’s custody is an issue, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are given the limited right to seek visitation.
Family members must be able to convince a judge in a custody proceeding, including termination of parental rights and certain adoptions, that failing to allow visitation would be harmful to the child, and granting visitation would be in the best interests of the child. Typically, a significant existing or previous relationship is required.
A family member can seek a temporary protective order if they are the victim of an act of family violence. Acts of family violence include simple battery, battery, simple assault, aggravated assault, criminal trespass, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, stalking, aggravated stalking, and other felonies, all as defined by criminal statutes. A protective order may direct the perpetrating family member not to engage in certain behaviors or not to go to certain places. After the initial order issues, the court will hold an evidentiary hearing, and the court will either continue or dismiss the protective order.
Georgia courts can similarly protect victims of dating violence.
Why You Should Hire a Family Law Attorney
Family law decides substantial issues in the lives of family members. It’s difficult to put aside their emotions and make the choices that will result in the best future consequences for themselves and other affected family members.
A family law attorney is an objective, experienced advocate who can identify and explain the legal options, and then use the proper strategy to promote the most favorable outcomes.
Family law matters are sensitive and require compassionate advocacy to facilitate the best solutions. Joseph Cheeley has served Gwinnett County and families in the north Atlanta area with integrity and understanding for more than 40 years.
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