Mother's Rights: "I want to be a Mom to my kids"
Protecting your rights as a mother to your children - How We Can Help
As a mother, you have certain rights and responsibilities when it comes to raising your children - both morally and legally. You should never feel like those rights are being taken away from you or that the system is working against you. Unfortunately, some single mothers in Georgia find themselves struggling with these issues every day. But learning about how to protect your parental rights doesn't have to seem overwhelming—and you are well-equipped to ensure that your wishes as a parent can still be heard loud and clear: “I want to be a mom to my kids!” especially with a strong legal team on your side.
Protecting Your Rights in a Divorce Case
Divorce can be an incredibly difficult and emotional experience, especially when children are involved. As a mother, it is essential to know that you have rights when it comes to your children's custody.
Legal custody grants you the authority to make important decisions regarding your children's health, education, and well-being. Both you and your children's father or other parent automatically share this authority, called joint legal custody. The only way it can be taken from either of you as parents is for a court to terminate your parental rights - which is not likely to happen in a divorce. Usually, termination of parental rights comes into play with adoption cases, where the birth parents' rights must be severed in order to grant parental rights to the adoptive parents instead.
What is common in a divorce is deciding which parent will have the final decision-making authority in the top four areas of decisions regarding children: religious upbringing, extracurricular activity participation, education, and non-emergency healthcare. In a joint legal custody situation, both you and the other parent are responsible for co-parenting and making a good faith effort (aka, at least trying and talking first) to come to an agreement on what to do with the children in these four areas - and all areas, really. However, a tie-breaker is needed, in case you have a standstill, so the children can continue to go on with their lives and not have to wait on a long court process to decide whether a child will participate in A activity or B activity.
The most common options we see are for the primary physical custodian to have tie-breaking authority in all four areas, or for the parents to split them down the middle - with one parent having two areas, and the other parent having two areas. Regardless, the point of this decision-making is to take care of the best interests of the children, co-parent effectively, while still being free to parent as you deem fit when the children are with you.
Physical custody, on the other hand, determines who the primary caregiver is or establishes parenting time with your children. The primary physical custodian is going to be the parent the children live with most of the time. Contrary to popular belief, courts do not automatically grant the mother primary physical custody of the children. The court looks at what is best for the children, which can include living situation, work schedule and availability of the parents, school district and transportation, ability to be home with the children when not at work, among other factors.
The secondary physical custodian will be granted designated times that the children will live with them. Sometimes this is the mother, sometimes it is the father. Regardless of which parent it is, the parenting time and visitation schedule will be set forth in a detailed Parenting Plan, which both parents must follow moving forward. The parents are allowed to make agreements to change what the plan says, such as when they agree to switch weekends or holidays, but in the event of any dispute over who has the children and when, the Parenting Plan has the final say in the matter.
Since it is not a given that mothers will be designated the primary physical custodian in a divorce, it is crucial to seek legal representation to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process. Remember, you have the right to fight for an outcome that aims to protect the best interests of you as the mother to your children.
Defending Your Rights in a Legitimation Case
In Georgia, if a father and mother are unmarried and have a child, only the mother has legal rights to the child. The father must either marry the mother or go through a process called "legitimation" in the court system in order to be declared the legal father and to have parental rights such as custody to his child. Since only the father can file this court case, you as the mother may find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. It's important to know what to do to defend your rights as your child's mother, and also keep in mind the best interest of your child when it comes to the type of relationship they should or should not have with their biological father.
Uncontested Legitimation - you and the father agree
The smoothest way for a legitimation case to go is if you and the child's father are on good terms, and you both can agree on what it looks like to have the father in the child's life. We usually see these types of cases when the parents are still in a loving relationship and want to protect their child and parental rights for the future - should they ever break up, or should anything happen to the mother and the child would be put in state care instead of with his father.
These are the best for all parties involved - especially the child. You and the child's father can agree and set out what your roles and parenting time will look like, if you do not live together. If you do live together, you can state that you will reserve physical custody designations for later on, should it ever be needed. Then, if you do break up or part ways, you do not have to worry about a legal case for legitimation popping up later on down the road. Instead, the only things to worry about are what custody and child support will look like when you live apart. It is much simpler and peaceable to go into an uncontested legitimation case, and to protect your rights as the child's mother.
Contested Legitimation - you do not think the father needs to be in the child's life
In a contested legitimation case, a mother's rights are foundational to ensuring the well-being of her child. If you find yourself facing an unfit father, it's essential to protect your rights and those of your child. If the father abandoned you and your child when the child was born, and has not been in the child's life for a long time, you may be able to work with an attorney to convince the court not to legitimize the father. And even if the court does decide to legitimize the father (the benefit to the child is that they now can inherit from their father, once legitimized), you can still fight and advocate for limited or safe contact and parenting time of your child with the father. In a case like this, it's crucial to remember that your rights as a mother should never be undermined, and your children's safety should always be your primary concern.
Use of a Guardian ad Litem in Your Custody Case
Whenever a custody case is presented before the courts in Georgia, often the judge will opt to appoint a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the child's best interests when a custody battle is underway. The term "guardian ad litem" originates from the Latin phrase meaning "for the suit." Although plenty of custody battles are between two motivated and capable parents, in some situations, it may become challenging to determine what is in the child's best interests. A guardian ad litem is appointed to determine what is best for the child and to present their expert findings before the court. In a way, a guardian ad litem serves as an additional voice for the child when the parents' potential biases or personal matters may interfere with their ability to make rational decisions. As a result, a guardian ad litem is appointed to represent the child's best interests and ensure that the court makes a decision favorable to them. The guardian ad litem will make an investigation into the home life of both parents and persons living in their house, as well as interview and find out the wishes of the child. Then the guardian ad litem will present their findings along with a recommendation of what they believe custody should look like to the parties and ultimately to the court. While the judge does not have to abide by the recommendation of the guardian, many judges will defer to most or all of what the guardian recommends.
After your court case is over and time goes by, you may want to change your custody agreement. This is something that can be pursued through legal means.
If you have an existing custody agreement from another state, there are legal means to go about enforcing it in the state of Georgia.
How We Can Help
At Your Law Firm, we understand the importance of a mother's custody rights to her children. We are committed to advocating for you whether it is in mediation or in court, ensuring that your voice is heard and your rights are protected every step of the way. Our team will guide you through the entire process, providing support and answers to any questions you may have. We are passionate about helping mothers defend and enforce their custody rights, and we will work diligently to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family. Please don't hesitate to contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you in protecting your rights.