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Shawn Bible - Lawyer in NW Georgia

The Rights of Unwed Father’s and Legitimization

In Georgia if a child is born to an unmarried couple the mother has sole custody of the child and the father has only potential rights. The father must file a Petition to Legitimate to establish parental rights.   This is true even if the father is on the birth certificate and even if he pays child support.

A biological father not married to the mother must file a legitimation action pursuant to Georgia law found in O.C.G.A. 19-7-2.  So, you ask how does a father go about doing that?

The father must file a Petition to Legitimate in Superior Court in the county where the mother lives (there are some exceptions to this general rule).  In many ways the process from there is similar to a Divorce case except that the only issues are child custody, visitation and support.

After the Petition is filed and the mother served with notice a court date will be set.  At that court date if an agreement cannot be reached between the parties the judge will decide child custody, set the visitation schedule or parenting plan and set child support.

If you are the father of a child born outside of marriage you need to speak to an attorney about your legal rights.  That attorney can tell you how best to pursue legitimation and explain the rights and obligations you have pursuant to Georgia law.

The Use of Guardian Ad Litems in Divorce and Child custody cases

A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) can appointed by  a Superior Court judge in a Divorce or Child Custody case. Generally speaking, a GAL is a person appointed by the court to investigate the situation and make a report about what would be in the child’s best interest. The GAL represents the best interest of the child and assist the court in making a decision on child custody and visitation.

A GAL is typically appointed when there are allegations of abuse, a parent with mental health or substance abuse issues, very high conflict between the parents that cannot be resolved easily, accusations of neglect and for other reasons.

The GAL typically will conduct interviews, examine the court file and other records and sometimes participate in the hearing by testifying.  The GAL must produce a written report and be available to testify if needed.

In custody cases sometimes one of the parties will ask for a GAL to be appointed.  In other cases the judge will appoint a GAL on their own authority even if the parties do not request the appointment of a GAL.

Which Court will hear my Divorce/Custody case?

If you have a family law case such as a divorce or custody modification which court will hear the case?  In Georgia, family law cases are heard in what is called the Superior Court.  Each county has its own Superior Court and the counties are linked together in what is called Judicial Circuits.  For example, I practice mostly in NorthWest Georgia in what is called the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit.  The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit is made up of four counties Catoosa (Ringgold), Walker (Lafayette), Dade (Trenton) and Chattooga (Summerville). Each of those counties has a courthouse and its own Superior Court Clerk.  There are four Superior Court judges in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit who are Judge Don Thompson, Judge Ralph Van Pelt, Judge Kristina Cook Graham and Judge Brian House.

If you file for divorce in Catoosa, Walker, Dade or Chattooga counties then you will file your divorce with the Superior Court Clerk of the County.  Your case will be heard by one of the four judges who serve the Judicial Circuit.

All cases which could be classified as family law cases are heard in the Superior Court.  These cases include Divorce, Child Custody, Legitimation, Adoption and Child Support.  There are some cases which involve families and custody of children which may be heard in other courts.  For example, Juvenile Courts hear cases that involve deprived or neglected children.  These cases usually begin as investigations made by the Department of Family and Children Services.  However, most cases which the average person would think of as family law cases will be heard in Superior Court.

Things to do before seeing a divorce attorney


Before you make an appointment to see an attorney about a divorce there are a few things you should do first.  The below list will help you organize your thoughts and make your first consultation with an attorney more productive and efficient.

  • Think about what you want to ask for and what your goals are. For example, if you have children think ahead of time what you would like to happen as regards custody and visitation.  As regards financial matters think what you would consider a fair division of marital assets to be.  An attorney can give you legal advice and help you reach your goals in a divorce but they cannot tell you what those goals should be without your help and input.
  • Give some thought as to where you hope to be in the future. What are your career goals?  Do you think because of career or other reasons you will have to move in the future?  While no one knows what the future holds it is a good idea to be thinking about these issues before seeing a divorce attorney.  For example, if you think your job will cause you to have to move then that is something that will have to be considered when determining child custody and visitation.
  • Create a list of your assets and debts. Any divorce will involve the division of marital assets so you need to know what those assets are.  Don’t overlook small items such as store credit cards and other small lines of credit.
  • Gather evidence you think might be helpful in your divorce case and do not let that evidence be destroyed or mislaid. For example, if you are considering a divorce based on your spouse’s adultery and you have a text message where he or she admits to adultery make sure that you save that message.  It is best to not only to keep an electronic record of such a message but also have a physical copy of it.  If your spouse has posted something incriminating on Facebook print that post out and do not rely on it being there in the future.
  • Do not text, email or leave voice messages that you do not want seen and heard in court. A divorce can be a stressful time and it is easy to lose your cool and send a text message in a fit of anger.  However, remember such text messages and other recorded conversations can be used in court and may portray you in a bad light to the judge.
  • If you have young children do not discuss the divorce with them. Not only will the court frown upon such conversations it is harmful to your child.  Remember that your spouse is that child’s parent as well.
  • Be prepared financially for your divorce. Take a careful look at your bills and expenses consider and the implications that your divorce will have on your budget.  Most people will need to make significant adjustments in their lifestyle, spending habits and budget after a divorce.

Moving after a divorce with kids


I frequently have people call my office and ask what happens to my custody/visitation with my children if I move?  The typical scenario is that parents of young children get divorced.  One parent has custody of the child and the other parent has visitation.  Several years later due to job changes, remarriage or other life changes one parent moves.  What happens to the court ordered or agreed custody and visitation provisions of the original court order?

If the move is of such distance that the visitation exchange would become a hardship under the previous provisions then the parties must address the move either in an agreed order or bring the issue before the court to make a decision to change the current parenting plan.

For example, parents of a five-year-old child get divorced in Georgia and mom gets custody and father gets standard visitation with the child.  The fathers visitation is every other weekend.  A few years later mom changes jobs and wants to move to California.  Of course, the original parenting plan in the divorce decree will not work under the above circumstances.  The parties may between themselves agree to a new parenting plan but if they cannot agree then one party must file a petition to modify the original parenting plan.

In the above scenario, the parenting plan must change to accommodate the move across country.  The court can do several things in the above scenario.  The court could decide that due to the mother’s decision to move the father should receive primary custody and the child stay in Georgia with the mother receiving visitation.  The court could decide that it is still the child’s best interest to move with the mother to California and change the fathers parenting plan to accommodate the move.  A typical parenting plan in such circumstances might be that the father receive the entire summer break from school and visit with the child on any extended school break.  The other big issue the court must address is who shall bear the burden of travel expenses.

The above example is extreme in that one party is moving across the country.  However, even moves that involve travel of over two hours can necessitate the need to amend an existing parenting plan.  Therefore, before making any decision to move a divorced parent should consider the possible implications to the existing parenting plan and consult with an attorney about their options.  In addition, the divorced parent should carefully read the existing order and parenting plan to see what limitations have been put in that order or parenting plan as regards moving.

Legal disclaimer: The information contained on this page and this entire website is for informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.  You should always consult an attorney before taking legal action.  Reading this website or any website is not a substitute for a trained attorney.  This website does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Shawn Bible Law Firm.  Mr. Bible serves all Northwest Georgia, including the cities of Ringgold, Fort Oglethorpe, Dalton, Lafayette, Trenton, Summerville and Rossville, in the counties of Catoosa, Walker, Chattooga, Dade, and Whitfield.

What court will my case be heard in?

One of the first things an attorney has to do when deciding whether to handle your case is to determine where the case will be heard. I practice law mainly in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit.  That means for the most part I handle cases in Catoosa, Walker, Dade, and Chattooga counties in North Georgia.  As part of my practice I represent people in DUI cases and other types of misdemeanor offenses as well as Family law.

The first question I have to ask people when they call for consultation and criminal cases is what court is your case in and where were you arrested?  One of the obvious reasons I ask the question is to know whether the person’s case will be in a County that my firm works in.  However, I also ask the question because each County has several criminal courts.

For example, if you are arrested for DUI in Catoosa County then your case may be heard in one of three courts.  If you are rested in the city limits of Ringgold or Fort Oglethorpe Georgia your case may be heard in that city’s municipal courts.  If you are outside city limits then your case will go to the Catoosa County state court.  This also holds true for the other counties in our judicial circuit and across the state. However, in some counties DUIs may be heard in the County Probate court or in some cases in that counties Superior Court if that County does not have a State Court.

I also handle civil cases such as divorce.  When it comes to divorce and other types of family law the answer to which court your case will be heard in is usually simple.  The Superior Court of the County the case will be filed in has exclusive jurisdiction over divorce and most other cases generally considered to be “family law”.  However, the Juvenile court of each County handles cases that could also fall under the general category of “family law” in cases where someone either an individual or the Department of Family and Children Services allege that the child is deprived.

Other types of cases can also be heard in multiple courts depending on several factors.  I hope the above discussion about what cases are heard and what courts is helpful.


Legal disclaimer: The information contained on this page and this entire website is for informational purposes only and are not intended as legal advice.  You should always consult an attorney before taking legal action.  Reading this website or any website is not a substitute for a trained attorney.  This website does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Shawn Bible Law Firm.  Mr. Bible serves all Northwest Georgia, including the cities of Ringgold, Fort Oglethorpe, Dalton, Lafayette, Trenton, Summerville and Rossville, in the counties of Catoosa, Walker, Chattooga, Dade, and Whitfield.

How much child support will I have to pay?


Child support can be very complicated.  However, I will attempt to give some general information about how child support is set. Generally speaking, child support is set in Georgia based on the parties gross incomes.  Gross income is your income before taxes or other things are taken out.  The child support that is owed by either party is determined by putting each parties gross income into the Georgia child Support Calculator.  This calculator can be found on the Georgia Child Support Commissions website.

However, there are other factors that determine child support besides gross income.  The party who pays the children’s health insurance can be given credit for that expense. If one party has work-related day care expenses those may also factor into the child support amount. If you pay court-ordered child support for another child that is also if a factor in the child support calculation.

Other issues that come up in child support litigation are willful underemployment and the hiding of income.  An example of willful underemployment would be someone who has education or training that would allow them to make a high income but they choose employment where they make significantly less than they would if they used their education and training.  An example of hiding income would be someone who has a job where they receive cash under the table and they have failed to report that cash as part of their income.

So, child support litigation can be more complicated than simply putting both parties income into a calculator.  If you are facing a divorce or child support modification you should consult an attorney for agreeing to any child support amount regardless of which side of the case you are on.

Things have changed since my divorce and I think I need custody of the kids now. What can I do?


In any divorce involving children the court has to decide who will have physical custody of the children.  Generally speaking, primary physical custody means the parent that the children live with.  The parent not having physical custody has visitation rights.

But what happens if after the divorce is final things change?  Let’s say for example that a couple gets divorced with two children ages two and four.  At the time of the divorce the parties agree that it is best for the children to live with their mother and visit with her father.  However, what happens if after the divorce the mother becomes for whatever reason an unsuitable person to have primary physical custody of the children? For example the mother marries an abusive man or develops a drug problem.  In those circumstances, the father could file a petition to modify custody and argue that because of changed circumstances he is now the best person for the child to live with.

Another common example is a child turning 14 and deciding they want to live with the other parent. For example, a child turns 14 and decides for whatever reason they would rather live with their father. Georgia law states that in most situations a child over 14 can choose which parent they want to live with.  However, you still have to file a petition to modify custody and go in front of a judge to change the existing order.  It’s not enough for the child merely to decide who they want to live with and the court still has to issue an order.

There are some limitations for filing a petition to modify custody and the other side can fight the modification.  Therefore, if you think circumstances have changed enough and you think you need to go back to court then you should consult with an attorney first.

Modification of custody in divorce cases


When people divorce who have children one of the things the court has to determine is who has custody of the children.  Typically, the parents will share what is called joint legal custody.  However, the parent the child lives with will be awarded what is called primary physical custody. Generally speaking the parent with primary physical custody will be the parent that not only the child lives with but who gets to make most of the major decisions.  For example, the parent with physical custody will decide where the child goes to school and make other major decisions.  The parent with primary physical custody will also receive any tax benefits from having the child unless the parties agree otherwise.

However, after a divorce is final the court’s order can still be modified.  The court’s order can only be modified if there are changed circumstances.  This means that you can’t a year after divorce decide to go back to court and ask for custody unless you have a good reason to do so.  For example, if the parent who has custody develops a drug problem or gets arrested this would be grounds for the noncustodial parent the take action to ensure the safety of the child.  Other examples would be if one parent wants to move a significant distance away from the other parent or if the custodial parent marries an unsuitable person.  Another very common example is that the child upon reaching 14 wishes to exercise their right to elect which parent to live with.  There are of course many other reasons the noncustodial parent can go back to court and request to modify the original custody award.

If you think that circumstances have changed enough where a custody award should be modified then you should discuss it with an attorney and see what your options are.

What is an Ex Parte or an Emergency Order in the context of a divorce case?


In many cases, at the time the divorce is filed, the filing party may also ask a judge for an Ex Parte Order.  An Ex Parte Order is simply an order which is granted without the other party being present.  This is often done in cases where there are minor children.  The typical Ex Parte Order will give one party custody of the minor children and possession of the marital home pending the Temporary Hearing (the first hearing).  When an Ex Parte Order is granted, that order will be filed along with the Complaint for Divorce and served upon the other party at the same time as the Complaint of Divorce. Ex Parte Orders are usually only in effect for a few weeks until a Temporary Hearing where both parties are present and can be heard by the court.

I give several scenarios below of occasions when such an order might be necessary:

A Wife and mother of young children has been the victim of domestic violence during the course of her marriage and fears what actions her husband might take when served with a divorce. Among her fears are that her husband might abscond with the children and leave the jurisdiction of the court.

A husband and father of young children is afraid that his wife who has substance abuse problems will endanger the children by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence with the children and/or fail to properly supervise the children due to her substance abuse issues. The husband wishes to have court order so that his wife will have supervised visitation with the children and will not be allowed to drive a motor vehicle with the children in the car with her.

Husband and wife have a bad relationship and cannot agree on anything. They still reside in the same home and neither can agree on who shall remain in the marital residence during and after divorce proceedings.  One or both them believe it will not be possible for them to reside in the same home while the divorce is ongoing.

Above are just a few of the scenarios in which an attorney might request a Ex Parte Order prior to filing a complaint for divorce.

The party who is served with such an order will have a right to be heard by the court within a reasonable time.  The court may upon hearing testimony and evidence maintain the provisions of the Ex Parte Order or the court may modify its provisions after hearing both sides.