The Meriwether & Tharp Divorce Attorney Blog

Return to the Blog Home Page

Child Custody

Parental Abduction

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tells the story of a 6-year-old boy who was recently abducted by his mother. Forsyth County Missing Boy, by Tyler Estep and J. Scott Trubey, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 2, 2015. While the phrase “abducted by his mother” sounds strange, this is in fact what happened. The mother, who does not have any custodial rights, took the child triggering the issuance of an Amber Alert. After a daylong search, the mother dropped the child off at a friend’s house and is now in jail on contempt charges. Stories like this can be very scary to parents going through contentious custody battles. Though this child was not taken from a school, it is important to remember that most schools will release a child to his or her parent (with proper ID) no questions asked.  To decrease of parental abduction of your child, there are several documents you can provide to your child’s school:

  1. A copy of any custody order – The custody order will have the full parenting plan that details when the child is with each parent and who has decision making ability. While the school is unlikely to get involved if there is a dispute, it will be helpful if they at least know what is supposed to be happening. For privacy purposes, you can mark out any information that does not have to do with custody, such as any financial information, equitable division, alimony, etc.
  2. A list of people who ARE authorized to pick the child up from school – Most schools require this kind of written authorization when anyone other than a parent will be picking the child up from school. Make sure the school has a list for your child on file and update it as necessary.
  3. A list of people who ARE NOT authorized to pick the child up from school – Even though this list can be presumed by the absence of names on the authorized list, it may be important to have this, especially if there are any custody issues. As mentioned above, a school will likely release a child to a parent, no questions asked. However, if one parent has supervised visitation only, or is not allowed to see the child at all, the school needs to know so the child is not released to that parent in contravention of a court order.
  4. A copy of any Family Protective Order – If there are any family members (parents or otherwise) who are not supposed to have any contact with the child, the school needs to know. That way, if one of these people shows up at the school to get the child, the school will refuse to release the child and may also contact the proper authorities to have the person arrested for violating the TPO.

Some schools may be more open to facilitating custody issues than others but, either way, it does not hurt to provide the school with the information. At the very least, it can help provide you peace of mind that your child is safe when at school.


No Joint Custody Between Parents and Grandparents in Georgia

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Stock image 13

There is no doubt that Georgia law recognizes how important it is for grandparents to play an active role in the lives of their grandchildren. In fact, Georgia’s Grandparent Visitation Statute expressly permits grandparents to establish legal visitation rights with their grandchildren under certain circumstances. Although Georgia law respects the rights of Georgia grandparents, a recent Georgia Supreme Court case reaffirms that joint child custody should be reserved for parents.

In Stone v. Stone, S15F0064 (Ga. June 29, 2015), the Supreme Court considered an order entered by a trial court awarding joint custody of the child to the child’s father and maternal grandmother. David Stone (husband/father) and Annna Stone (wife/mother) divorced in January 2014.  The parenting plan incorporated into the couple’s final divorce decree awarded joint legal custody of the couple’s minor child to Husband and the child’s maternal Grandmother. Husband was granted primary physical custody, Grandmother was awarded visitation rights, and Wife, who the court found was unfit to have custody of the child, was given only a potential for future visitation. On appeal filed by David Stone challenging the trial court’s custody determination, the Georgia Supreme Court held:

[…][T]he trial court in this case had no power to grant joint custody to Husband and Grandmother, and that award must be vacated. This result does not mean, however, that the statute does not respect and promote the interaction of loving grandparents with a minor child. To the contrary, the statute encourages contact with grandparents in O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3 (d), and O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3 provides a mechanism for a grant of visitation rights to grandparents when necessary to ensure and preserve this contact. Also, in situations where neither parent is suitable to have custody, a grandparent might certainly be “a person” qualified to have sole custody of a minor child. However, in situations where a parent is suitable to exercise custody over a child, the statute does not allow that parental custody to be limited by a joint custody arrangement with a grandparent or, for that matter, any other person.

Id. Put plainly, the Georgia Supreme Court determined that although grandparent’s right to grandchild visitation should be respected, Georgia law does not recognize joint custody arraignments between parents and grandparents. Joint custody may only be shared by parents.


What is FERPA?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. 20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99. According to FERPA, all parents have certain rights regarding access to their children’s educational records. These rights include equal access to their child’s educational records, the right to seek the correction of any inaccurate or misleading information contained in their child’s records, and the right to prevent the disclosure of information contained in their child’s educational records under certain circumstances.

It is important for all parents, both custodial and non-custodial, to be aware of their rights according to FERPA, because under FERPA, all parents enjoy the rights listed above, regardless of whether a parent shares legal custody of their child with the other parent. This is because FERPA defined the word “parent” as a natural parent, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or guardian. Thus, under FERPA, a parent has the right to access their child’s educational records, despite not having legal custody or final decision making authority regarding educational issues. Put another way, neither the school district, nor the custodial parent, has the right to deny a non-custodial parent’s request to access their child’s educational records. The only way a parent would be deprived of this right is in cases where a court order exists that specifically revokes this right.

It is generally uncommon for court’s to specifically preclude one parent’s access to their child’s educational records. So, if you are a parent who has been denied access to your child’s educational records, please know that you are entitled to access according to this important federal law. Keep in mind though, only report cards, standardized test information, individualized education program plans, and similar information are considered educational records. Information such as this may be requested. On the other hand, general information regarding your child’s progress in school, lunch menus, PTA information, school calendars and extracurricular activity calendars are not considered educational records, and may not be demanded under FERPA.

Michigan Children Jailed for Refusing Lunch with their Father

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Most people are familiar with parents being punished for refusing to abide by the custody and visitation terms of a final divorce decree. Recently, a Michigan judge punished the children of divorced parents for refusing to see their father. Kids Jailed for Refusing Lunch With Dad Being Freed as Judge Caves, by Steven Nelson,, July 10, 2015. In that case, the three children (ages 14, 10 and 9) refused Judge Lisa Gorcyca’s order that they spend time with their estranged father. The children did not want to see their father because he had allegedly abused their mother. Judge Gorcyca “told the siblings they would be placed in ‘cells’ and forced to use toilets without privacy until they turn 18” for refusing to comply with her.

Despite several allegations of abuse, Judge Gorcyca told the children that their father “had never been convicted of anything” and that he was “a great man.” In fact, Judge Gorcyca had previously denied the mother’s request for a protective order from the father, alleging that he had hit her, assaulted her, and threatened to kill their children. It is unclear why this protective order was denied. In spite of these abuse allegations, however, the mother apparently still encouraged the children to comply with the order, but they refused. After two weeks and a media firestorm, Judge Gorcyca backed down and released the children, though she claimed she had their best interests at hear throughout the case.

A case like this seems almost unbelievable. It is hard to imagine that it is in the best interests of children to spend time with a parent of whom they are afraid. But to go one step further and put children in jail for refusing to see a parent of whom they are afraid is unconscionable. There has to be a middle ground. If a Judge does not believe the allegations of abuse and feels strongly that the children should see that parent, the Judge should put some safeguards in place to make that child feel more comfortable. Perhaps visitation in a public place or with another adult with whom the children feel comfortable. Or even just give the children some time to think about it and revisit the situation in a month. Punishing the children will not help the situation and will likely only make the children more resentful if and when they do spend time with the parent at issue.

Divorce and Back to School Time

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015


When you go through a divorce and work out custody and visitation arrangements with your spouse, you make an agreement based on the kids’ ages at that point. However, as anyone with kids knows, schedules change fairly regularly as kids get older and get more involved with school and extracurricular activities. A parenting plan made when children were 7 and 5 will likely not work when the children are 15 and 13. As such, it is prudent to revisit your parenting plan regularly to make sure it still meets the needs of your changing family. A good time to do that is around back to school time, since schedules for school age children tend to change with the beginning of the school year, rather than the beginning of the calendar year.

Towards the end of the summer (or even earlier for some very organized families), your children’s school schedules will firm up and you will learn about the dates for breaks in the school calendar, such as Thanksgiving, winter break, spring break, and any other school holidays. You and your ex can then (hopefully!) work together to adjust the visitation schedule so that it makes sense with the children’s new schedule. For example, maybe your daughter had dance on Tuesdays last year, but now has it on Wednesdays. If the non-custodial parent’s weekday visitation is dinner on Wednesday night, this new dance class may cut into it. As such, it may make sense to switch the weekday visitation to another day where there would not be a conflict with an extracurricular activity. In addition, perhaps one parent has a family reunion over Thanksgiving and wants to bring the children, but the other parent is supposed to have the children for Thanksgiving that year. Hopefully the parents will be able to work together to switch things around in that situation.

Technically, your parenting plan (however old it may be) is the custody and visitation order that must be followed by both parents. However, it does not make practical sense to go back to court to modify every time your child’s schedule changes. As such, try to work things out with your ex on your own. While exes who still greatly dislike each other may not be able to work well together in this way, it can save you both a lot of money as opposed to contacting attorneys each time you need to make a change. Just make sure you communicate via email so that any changes are confirmed in writing. That way, if your ex goes back on his or her agreement to modify visitation and tries to sue you for contempt of the order, you will have a paper trail.

Can You Relocate After Your Divorce?

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

After a divorce is finalized, most people want to live their lives completely free of their ex-spouse. If you and your ex had no kids together, this is often possible. However, when there are kids involved, you have to consider your ex before making any major life decisions – at least until the kids are 18 and no longer subject to any custody or child support order. One question often asked of family law attorneys is whether one parent can relocate to a different city with the children. The answer to this question is not black and white. Each family is different with unique facts to consider.

In considering a move, the first thing you should do is to consult your final divorce decree or settlement agreement. Often, these agreements have clauses requiring notice to the other parent of any intent to change residence, as well as requiring the parent desiring to move to give complete, updated contact information. The purpose of requiring notice is two-fold. First, it is just common courtesy to inform a child’s parent of where that child will be living so the two of you can hopefully work out a modified visitation schedule, if necessary. Second, it gives the other parent the opportunity to object to the move. This is more common when one parent is attempting to move with the child out of the city and away from the other parent.

The most important thing to consider in planning a move with you children to another city is whether that move is in the children’s best interests. If a move will take children away from their school, friends, and family, this may not be in their best interests. However, if you are moving for a job opportunity that could be great for the whole family, this may trump the fact that your children will have to adjust to a new place.

Whatever the reason for the desire to move, you must consider the children and the impact it will have on their lives. If they are old enough, talk to them about it. As difficult as it may be for you, be open to any wishes they have to remain in the same city with the other parent. The court will consider this anyway if the move becomes a litigated matter. Also talk to your ex to work out a custody and visitation arrangement that will make practical sense after the move. If your children know what to expect and when they will see the other parent, the move will become a bit easier for them.

One set of twins – two fathers?

Monday, June 29th, 2015

In a very unusual family law case, a New Jersey woman just found out that her two-year-old twins have two different fathers. New jersey judge rules twins have different fathers, by Haimy Assefa,, May 8, 2015. The mother had filed a paternity action against the man she believed fathered both children and a DNA test proved he was only the father of one of the children. Apparently, the mother had sexual intercourse with two men within the same week and, while this medical phenomenon is extremely rare, it is not impossible. As a result of the paternity case, the mother now receives child support for one of her twins, but will have to file a paternity/child support action against the other father (assuming she knows who it is) in order to receive any child support for her other child.

This case brings up some interesting family law issues. Though they are twins, these two children will be treated in the eyes of the law as regular siblings. Everything from child support to custody will be treated separately as there are two different fathers to contend with. Once the paternity of the second father is established, the child support cases will remain separate.

Custody may be considered together, however. The children have been raised together their entire lives and it would likely not be in their best interests to split them up. As such, if either father wants custodial/visitation rights, the court would likely consider the relationship between the twins and make sure any visitation allowed them to be at their mother’s together. For example, if the fathers each had visitation every other weekend, the court would likely order the visitation to be on the same weekend, so that the children could spend as much time together. Thus, while this case certainly presents some interesting issues, the court will still look at the best interests of the children in making any determinations regarding custody and visitation.

Should I Seek Joint Custody or Primary Custody?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Should you split child custody 50/50 with your ex-spouse, or should you seek primary physical custody? This is a question that every parent considers at some point during the Georgia divorce process.

Although many believe it is best for children when one parent have primary physical custody, because it allows children to have one stable primary home, and it obviates any stress children may endure by having to constantly move around between two households. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that children fare better when they spend time living with both parents. Even though this study goes against the beliefs of many concerning the best interest of children post-divorce, this Georgia law has supported this conclusion for decades. As recited in Georgia statutory law:

It is the express policy of this state to encourage that a child has continuing contact with parents and grandparents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child after such parents have separated or dissolved their marriage or relationship.”

O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(d).

With this recently published study, as well as Georgia law in mind, if you are considering divorce or if you are currently going through a divorce or child custody matter and are wondering which child custody arrangement would be best for you and your children, it is important to consider all options, and to seek the guidance of an honest and experienced Alpharetta family law professional.

The Importance of Thinking Through Parenting Plans

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

In any case involving child custody in Georgia, the parents (jointly or separately) must submit a parenting plan. O.C.G.A. §19-9-1. In addition to several general statements about custody, see O.C.G.A. §19-9-1(b)(1)), the parenting plan must include specific details about who the children will be with every day of the year, including holidays, vacations, special occasions such as birthdays, how visitation exchange will take place, and allocation of decision making authority. O.C.G.A. §19-9-1(b)(2).

When working with your spouse to come up with a parenting plan, it is important to think long and hard about your children and their schedules (as well as the schedules of you and your spouse). There is no cookie-cutter parenting plan that will make sense for every family. Each family is unique and has different things to consider in determining what will work best post-divorce. For example, if you have high school aged children, it may work best if they just drive themselves to and from visitation. Obviously, elementary and middle school aged children will need to be driven. In addition, older children may have numerous extra curricular activities and their schedules may not lend themselves to weeknight visitation. Parents who live far from each other also may have a hard time working weeknight visitation into the schedule even if their children don’t do any extracurricular activities. It may help to look at “a week in the life” of your family in determining what will work best post-divorce. Living in two separate households can certainly make things more difficult, but doing your due diligence up front before being locked into a parenting plan can help.

Parents know their children better than any Judge. For this reason, it almost always works out better if the parents can work together to jointly submit a parenting plan to the court. Unless the Judge finds the parenting plan to be contrary to the best interests of the children, he/she will accept it and it will become part of the final divorce decree. If you cannot agree, the Judge will make the decision and you may be stuck with a parenting plan that does not make practical sense for your family. Even if you and your spouse are at extreme odds in your divorce and cannot seem to agree upon anything, try to mediate just the custody issue and see if you can jointly come up with a plan that will work for both of you, and your kids. If you can do so, your post-divorce life will likely be a little easier, at least as it relates to co-parenting.

Alternative Visitation Options

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

When discussing child custody and visitation with your soon-to-be ex-spouse or your attorney, keep in mind that visitation does not have to just be when you physically see your children. With the advent of technology, there are many ways to have “visitation” with your children, even when you are physically not with them:

  1. Telephone visitation – A clause for telephone visitation has been in settlement agreements for years but is still worth mentioning for those who have not considered it. Some parents think of visitation as “my time” with the kids and don’t want any interference by the other parent. This is not unreasonable, but may not make the children comfortable. Consider adding a clause that allows the non-custodial parent (at that time) to call the children one time a day. If a child is having a hard time with the divorce, getting a good night phone call from the other parent may ease that child’s discomfort.
  2. Email visitation – This clause has also likely been in settlement agreements in recent years. This can be a great way for parents and children to send information back and forth, particularly for parents who do not live in the same city. Perhaps the child did some work in school that he/she is particularly proud of. That child can scan the work in and email it to the parent who lives in a different city.
  3. Texting – This can be a very effective mode of communication, particularly with teenagers. If you have children who are always on the go and don’t take time to pick up their phones, send a quick text just to let them know you are thinking about them. Whether or not they respond, you may put a smile on their face on a day that they would otherwise not have time to stop and think about you.
  4. FaceTime or Skype – This is a great option, particularly for parents who live far away from each other. When parents don’t live in the same city, physical visitation is often long chunks of time during summer vacation and other school holidays. Thus, one parent may not physically see the children for a long period of time. FaceTime and/or Skype can solve this because they allow parents and children to see each other over the Internet or through their phones.

Some divorced parents have no problem allowing the children to communicate with the non-custodial parent in all of these manners. Some, however, are hesitant to share any of their visitation time with the other parent. For this reason, and because you never know if you relationship with your ex will change, it is prudent to add clauses allowing for this communication into your parenting plan. In addition to cutting down on arguments about who can talk to who and when, adding these communication visitation options into a parenting plan will further the child’s relationship with both parents.