Family law is an extremely broad area of practice. There is no area of the law which is more personal or more critical. Issues in family law effect the welfare of children, earnings and earning potential of spouses and the accumulated wealth of the family. Family law cases can range from a simple divorce with a pre-determined agreement to a outright struggle over custody, support and property division. Individuals with privately owned business or substantial separate property (property accumulated pre-marriage or by gift and inheritance) present highly complicated valuation issues for property division. Conduct also creates an issue between parties.
A client may have committed adultery and acts of infidelity and be desiring of making sure to protect the relationship with the children and the property and wealth to provide for them. By contrast, a client may have discovered the misconduct and be facing a complete and total surprise breakdown of the family unit. In these situations, the client may desire to make sure that their own financial situation is secure and that any children are insulated from a new relationship. Clients also may find themselves in situations of parental drug use and seek to restrict custody and visitation appropriately. Clients who have had custody and visitation restricted due to drug and alcohol issues need a path to recovery and restoration of their relationship with the children.
The legal standard in Georgia for a court to make a custody determination is what is in the best interest of the child or children involved. The courts will use this standard to determine legal custody, which establishes how important decisions will be made regarding the child’s upbringing, as well as physical custody, which establishes who the child will be with at any given point in time. Because the legal standard in Georgia is so broad, it is important to seek guidance from an experienced family law attorney so that the most important and relevant facts to your situation are presented to the Court. For example, if you are the parent who has traditionally handled the day to day schedules and tasks for the minor children, it is important to make sure that the Court is aware of those facts not just through your own testimony, but also by obtaining school records, medical records, and other documentation to evidence your involvement in the children’s day to day lives. Likewise, if the other parent has been increasingly absent from the minor children’s lives, or has made decisions that demonstrate that he or she is not putting the children’s needs first, that information needs to be properly gathered and presented to the Court so that an appropriate custody determination can be made. The attorneys at O’Dell & O’Neal understand the importance in ensuring that a custody determination is made that serves the children’s best interest while also insulating the children from the custody dispute.
Visitation schedules can be difficult to establish for even cooperative parents because there are so many factors to consider. Additionally, there can be hurdles to overcome such as long distances between the parents, children with hectic and often conflicting schedules, and situations where supervised visitation is appropriate. It is important to seek guidance and feedback from an experienced family law attorney who can craft a realistic and creative visitation arrangement that suits the needs of your unique circumstances.
- Child Support
Georgia adopted new child support guidelines in 2007 that completely overhauled the way that courts calculate child support. These new guidelines allow for numerous considerations beyond just the parties’ income. For example, if your child has exceptional educational expenses such as private school tuition, uniforms, or private tutoring, those expenses can be factored into a child support award. Likewise, if your child requires daycare, after school care, or summer childcare, those expenses are required to be considered by the court in calculating a child support amount. There are many other expenses associated with a minor child that can be included in a child support calculation if the court determines that they are extraordinary. It is important to seek guidance from attorney who is familiar with these new laws and can present the court with an organized presentation of the income of each party and expenses associated with the children so that a fair and equitable child support award is made.
It is not uncommon for one spouse in a marriage to have devoted their time and energy to the career and earning potential their spouse, often times to the exclusion of their own earning potential. Alimony and spousal support are designed to compensate for such a scenario by providing either short term or long-term support. Alimony and spousal support can be in the form of lump sum payments or over time payments.
- Division of Property (including asset valuation)
The Judge (or jury) is ordered to make an “equitable” division of property. Equitable does not mean equal or 50/50 and Judges do not have to divide every asset. Judges can award all of one account or asset to one spouse and all of another to the other spouse. Dividing property is based on any number of factors, including, but not limited to the conduct of the parties, each party’s separate assets and financial status, each party’s income and earning capacity and each party’s debts and future needs. Only property which is acquired during the marriage (other than by gift or inheritance) is subject to division. Property owned prior to the marriage (which still exists or can be traced) and property inherited or received by separate gift belongs to that spouse.
- Attorneys Fees
Attorneys fees can be a daunting aspect of a divorce or family law dispute. Fortunately, courts in Georgia have the authority to award one party attorney’s fees from the other party under a number of different circumstances. In a divorce case, courts will often require the superior wage-earning spouse to provide attorneys fees to the inferior wage earning spouse in order to level the playing field and ensure that both parties have equal access to legal counsel. Courts will also take into consideration the conduct of each party. If one party’s misconduct was the direct cause of the divorce, the Court can take that misconduct into account in making its attorneys fee award. Also, if either party unnecessarily drags out the divorce proceeding or takes unreasonable positions, the Court can punish that party by making him or her pay the other party’s legal fees.