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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Custody battles: be prepared to be scrutinized

One thing parents may overlook when they initiate a battle with their partner over custody of their children is the ability of the court to scrutinize their personal life in order to determine parental fitness and the best interests of the children.

In determining child custody, courts can consider almost anything they want. And while there is no way to know what types of things will be scrutinized during a custody battle, it is important to realize the extent to which one may be placed under the microscope during the process.

Concerning parental fitness, courts have broad authority in issuing orders to determine mental or physical capability. Courts are able to order various tests, and can continue to continue testing periodically to ensure mental and emotional stability, freedom from drug and alcohol abuse, as well as freedom from communicable diseases.

In Georgia, tests indicating that a parent is currently abusing drugs or alcohol may make it difficult for that parent to win the case. Still, a failed test doesn’t automatically mean the other parent will win, particularly if the abusing parent is the mother. Court’s do take into account the harm in separating children from their mother. Even where the mother is an abuser, she may still win custody if it can be shown that the abuse doesn’t have an impact on her ability to care for her children.

Of course, the types of tests a judge will order largely depends on what types of things the other side brings into question and the judge’s approach to evaluating any accusations.

Courts may also control where litigants travel during a pending custody battle, specifically where they take their children. In Georgia, once a divorce is filed, one cannot take one’s children out of the court’s jurisdiction unless both parents agree or the court approves. Courts may also seize children’s passports if there is a concern that parents may flee the United States. Vacations can even be considered flight by a court, and may be restricted during a custody battle.

Source: Sun Herald, “Family court can pull passports, order drug testing and more during custody proceedings,” 7 April 2011.