FAMILY LAW

  • Legal Guardianship in Georgia

    Legal Guardianship in GeorgiaThere are several situations where you might want to consider the responsibilities of a legal guardian.  This can arise from a variety of reasons and you need to know what will – or won’t – be your duties or rights in the event that you become a guardian in the state of Georgia.  Because there are various types of guardianships that arise in different circumstances, let’s take a few of the most common types one at a time.  We’re always happy to give you specific answers to your own situation as well,  so please feel free to ask us.
    Typically a guardian may be legally responsible for the safety, shelter, education, nurturing, financial management, or medical care of another person.
    Becoming the guardian of a minor child is one common form of guardianship that allows you legally to take part in the life of the child.  A guardianship is not the same as an adoption. Unlike an adoption which terminates the legal rights of the birth parents so that the adoptive parent(s) have full rights and obligations – – a guardianship does not end the legal parental relationship between a child and his/her biological parents.  Instead a guardianship provides an additional legal relationship between the guardian and the child.
     A child’s guardian may have one unique responsibility which could occur if a minor child inherits a gift from someone’s will.  In this instance the courts may approve a guardianship to manage the gift or assets until the child is of legal age (18 years old) to manage his own finances.  A biological parent may be named a legal guardian in this case.
    On one hand, becoming a child’s guardian can facilitate your right to influence the child’s medical care and medical decisions, manage the child’s finances, guide the quality of life, or direct his educational choices.  But on the other hand, becoming a legal guardian is a request that can trigger resentment or resistance from a biological parent. If a guardian is appointed, the biological parent may not owe any further financial support.
    At the other end of the life continuum, a guardianship may become desirable for someone who is incapacitated or elderly.  If the adult ward is not able to communicate his/her responsible decisions regarding needs or safety, a more encompassing alternative to guardianship is a conservatorship. There are typically medical, financial, or safety concerns that necessitate an adult guardianship and there are guardianship obligations that accompany this decision.  The legal definitions of guardianship law are specific and can be found in the link in this sentence.  A guardian for the elderly may have access to additional resources to help with the financial and medical decisions that become necessary for the adult’s safety and wellbeing.
    In the event that a minor child or an elderly or incapacitated adult is unable to represent themselves in court, a special type of guardianship may be appointed.  This is called Ad Litem guardianship.  An Ad Litem guardian will represent the ward in court proceedings.  An Ad Litem guardian may be a close relative or a responsible party such as an attorney, and this type of guardianship is common during divorce hearings or when settling estates.
    We encourage you to do a couple of things.  Please check out our link above to find the exact definitions of guardianship law in Georgia … and then let us know how we can help you with your own questions about possible guardianships for your needs.
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  • Child Custody Hearing in Georgia

    GeorgiChild Custody HearingIf you are scheduled to have a child custody hearing, Georgia government sites recommend that your first step in protecting your rights prior to attending a child custody hearing should be (we’re not making this up) – – hire a Georgia attorney.
    Here are the basics of what you can expect to happen.
    First, the hearing usually benefits from those who are able to agree in advance on some of the basic tenets of the child’s custody.   For example, it helps if you already know which parent will be the custodial parent – – or if the custody will be shared.  Who will be responsible for transporting or exchanging the child to the other parent for a visit, where and how often does that happen?  What are the arrangements for holidays or non-school days?
    And if you can’t agree?  The judge may ask each parent to submit a plan for proposed parenting.  After review of the proposals, the judge will then decide the details of the custody terms.  Topics the judge will consider include but are not limited to:  love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child as well as the child’s bond with siblings;  the parent’s ability to provide basic care, safety, and involvement in the child’s life, the stability of the home environment as well as the parent’s stability, and mental or physical limitations of a parent.  We will assist you in developing your presentation of information.
    If one parent receives full custody, the other parent no longer has any legal voice on behalf of the child. A non-custodial parent might receive visitation rights from the court and may have responsibility for financial involvement, but has no presumed priority in the religious or medical or educational aspects of the child’s life.
    With joint custody, both parents might be entitled to not only legal custody but physical custody as well.  Both parents might have input into decisions about the child’s education or religious training.  Both parents might be involved in medical decisions and provide financially to whatever degree they’ve agreed in court.  And with joint custody there is usually a presumption of the right to visitation time (excepting limiting factors) with the child regardless of which parent might be the primary care giver.
    Expect the judge in a Georgia child custody hearing to look after the interests of the child(ren) foremost.  They will determine details such as how a non-custodial parent will contact the child when the child is in the other parent’s physical custody.  The wellbeing of the child is even a greater priority than the wellbeing of either parent in this matter.  Only material changes in the family structure are possible reasons to change the initial custody granted by the court, so it’s important to get it right the first time.  An attorney is experienced in diffusing possible differences in parental priorities to arrive at a satisfactory agreement while protecting your rights.

     

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  • Modification of a Georgia Court Order

    Georgia Court Order ModificationLet’s say you and another party in a family law case in Georgia have already reached an agreement and the court has issued its final order.  But what happens if one (or both) parties want to change (modify) that agreement later on?  Possibly both parties even agree on the terms of the change.
    Sounds simple?    Not so fast.  No official change is made until it’s approved via court order.
    Some decisions are very seldom changed.  Those include paternity decisions or the division of property/assets from a divorce decision.  Those issues likely won’t be changed unless there was some fraudulent or improper circumstance.
    But a court order modification is somewhat more common regarding children’s issues – – custody, visitation, etc.   It can be complex.
    For instance, perhaps either parent periodically requests a review of the child support order.  Such reviews can be triggered by updated support laws or if there’s a change in the needs of the child or perhaps the finances of a party.  If there has been some type of material change pertaining to either parent regarding child custody, that can qualify for review.  Visitation is decided upon the best interests of the child and those best interests may fluctuate over time.
    But the courts are protected from folks who would like to change the terms all “willy-nilly”.  (Willy-nilly is not a legal term and for those not familiar it means “randomly at will” – – used only because it’s fun to say).  In some instances a material change of circumstances will be reviewed only once every 2 years.
    Do you know what organizations like GeorgiaLegalAid.org recommend that you do?   You’re right.  Contact an attorney to represent you.  Even if you don’t select us to represent you – – although we would like to be the attorney that you choose  – – at least find SOME good Georgia attorney to protect your rights and interests in the terms of the modification.

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  • Types of Georgia Adoptions

    Adoption in GeorgiaAdoption can be a rewarding and emotional experience for all involved.  It’s important to know what to expect and what options are available with various types of legal adoptions in Georgia.
    Sometimes a relative will step in and take over the care of the children.  In order to qualify as a relative, the adoptive parent must be directly related to the adoptee by blood or by marriage.  Often grandparents or aunts and uncles step into this role, but in some families a child’s brother or sister can qualify to adopt them.
    A variation of a relative’s adoption is when a step-parent adopts his/her spouse’s child.  Before the adoption process, if there is a non-custodial parent of the child, that non-custodial parent must legally consent (terminate) their own parental rights.  Then the prospective step-parent must allow a criminal background check along with verification from the court that the adoption application facts are accurate.  In the case of a step-parent, the adoptive parent does not need a pre-placement evaluation of the home.
    Many of the children who are in the Georgia foster care system become eligible for adoption through the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS).  In the DFCS foster care system, a child is in the custody of DFCS while being fostered.  As custodian, DFCS must give written consent to any proposed adoption.  There will be a pre-placement home study to assure an appropriate environment, as well as a criminal background check of the proposed adoptive family.  The family will receive an information form about the adoptive child’s background.  PRIOR TO the adoption, future parents should fully investigate the assistance incentives provided for a DFCS adoption… perhaps a monthly reimbursement for expenses or legal fees, or Medicaid coverage.  We will discuss other factors with you, such as arrangement for the child’s siblings.
    There are private agencies in Georgia (often parochial) who facilitate adoptions as well.  Any child-placing adoption agency in Georgia must be licensed.  The adoptive parents can anticipate a pre-placement home evaluation, a criminal background check, and the agency will provide the child’s background information and a written consent to the adoption.
    With all adoptions, we recommend that you utilize the advice of an adoption attorney to protect everyone’s future interests.  The time to scrutinize the details of the adoption, is BEFORE the adoption is final.  We know how to troubleshoot common issues that may arise.  But particularly in the next two examples, it’s almost imperative that you seek legal assistance to help steer you through the necessary steps and paperwork.
    In a private adoption (a.k.a. independent adoption), a child’s biological parent(s) may place their child directly with an adoptive parent.  In the legal process of a private adoption, a pre-placement evaluation and criminal background check are still usually required and those studies can be conducted by a licensed adoption agency or by a qualified social worker.  In this type of adoption, both the birth parents and the adoptive parents have input about the amount and nature of their future interactions.  An attorney knows how to put those agreements into writing to protect everyone’s interests.
    If adoptive parents choose to explore an international adoption to adopt a child from another country, a licensed international adoption agency should be utilized.  Because the child will be immigrating to the United States, the adoption must be approved by both the child’s country and the U.S. State Department.  This process is complicated, it varies from country to country, and involves many forms and details to assure a smooth transition for everyone in the new adoptive family.
    If you’re curious about whether an adoption will work for you, please give us a call.  There are many children waiting.  We can help.
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