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High Profile Child Custody Battles in Georgia: Usher Raymond v. Tameka Foster

In this first, of what I hope to be the last installment in the series "High Profile Child Custody Battles," we turn to the case of Usher Raymond vs. Tameka Foster. Some background information on the couple's marriage and subsequent divorce may be helpful.

Raymond, a well know R&B singer from the Atlanta area, was married to Foster from August of 2007 to February of 2009, when Raymond filed for divorce. During their marriage, the couple had two sons, Usher Raymond V and Naviyd Ely, who are ages 4 and 3 restively. Since their divorce in 2009, Foster has maintained custody of the couple's minor children, receiving child support from Raymond in the amount of approximately $8,000 per month.

As is reported by Fox Atlanta and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Raymond is now seeking to modify the co-parenting arrangement between himself and Foster in order to obtain full custody of his two sons. Foster, who recently lost her oldest son, a child from a previous relationship, in a tragic jet skiing accident, is fighting Raymond's petition vigorously in order to maintain custody of her youngest sons, and the case is now being heard in Fulton County Superior Court. The hearing on the custody modification action was conducted in Fulton County earlier this month.

In has been reported that in his complaint, Raymond alleged that Foster is not a good parent, she may be suffering from emotional and anger issues, and she has failed to foster a parental bond with the children. On the other hand, Foster is alleging that although Raymond is a good parent, he is absent a lot, which affects his ability to effectively co-parent. Foster also alleges that Raymond's lifestyle as an R&B singer would not be a conducive environment in which to raise young children.

Looking to Georgia Law on the subject of child custody modification, it seems as if this case could go either way. According to O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3, a judge must consider the "best interests of the child [or children]" when deciding issues of child custody and the modification of child custody.

In determining the best interests of the child, a judge may consider any relevant factor including, but not limited to:

(A) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
(B) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and step siblings and the residence of such other children;
(C) The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child;
(D) Each parent's knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child's needs;
(E) The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent;
(F) The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
(G) The importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
(H) The stability of the family unit of each of the parents and the presence or absence of each parent's support systems within the community to benefit the child;
(I) The mental and physical health of each parent;
(J) Each parent's involvement, or lack thereof, in the child's educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
(K) Each parent's employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
(L) The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
(M) Each parent's past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
(N) The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child;
(O) Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
(P) Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
(Q) Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.

O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3.

With the applicable legal standard in mind, if we take Raymond's allegations at face value, he is likely to prevail in his custody action against Foster. Raymond's allegations that Foster has failed to foster a strong parental bond with the couple's children, and his allegation that Foster may be dealing with personal and emotional issues that could impair her parenting abilities,bear on two of the above-mentioned factors that a court may consider in child support modification matters.

However, if we look to Foster's allegations, a court may determine that it is in the children's best interest to remain with her. As Foster alleges, removing the children from the home and circumstance that they have known for most of their lives may be detrimental to the children. Also, in light of Raymond's career, he may not be able to provide his children with the nurturing environment or the time and attention that they need to develop successfully. These facts, too, may be considered by a judge in determine whether the custody arrangement of the parties' children should be modified.

Georgia Law provides guidelines in order to insure that the best interests of the children involved are served in every custody order that is entered. These standards will most certainly lead the court in the Raymond v. Foster case to reach a determination that insures that the Raymond children are raised in happy and healthy surroundings.

By A. Latrese Martin, Law Clerk, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC

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