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Family Law

This area of the law encompasses many of the more familiar and common legal proceedings involving marriages and children.

Divorce

A divorce formally dissolves the legal, state-created relationship between a husband and a wife. As part of this dissolution, marital property and debts are divided in an orderly way, and provisions are made for the parties' separate lives after the divorce. If children are involved, issues of child support and custody are also addressed.

An uncontested divorce is a situation where the husband and wife can agree on how to resolve most or all of the issues that their case presents, including those of child support and custody. This is the route that is typically in each spouse's best interest as it keeps legal fees to a minimum, reduces the emotional stress that attends almost every divorce, and resolves the case quickly so that both parties can move on with their respective lives.

If the parties cannot agree on how to resolve the issues, their case necessarily becomes a contested divorce. These situations require a court to get involved. This process prolongs the resolution of their case, increases the costs significantly, and takes away a measure of the parties' control over the outcome of their case.

Child Support, Visitation, and Custody Modifications

Whenever parents divorce, issues of child support and custody will be resolved either through a settlement agreement, through mediation, or by a judge. While this resolution usually works for the parents at the time of the divorce and immediately after, there is no guarantee that it will continue to be practicable in the months and years to come. Divorced parents change residences, lose jobs, gain promotions, fall ill, and, generally, go through life just like everyone else, and it would be unrealistic to expect every divorce decree to retain its workability throughout the many years that it is likely to be in effect.

Because of this, Georgia law allows modification actions to be brought. Either parent may petition the court for adjustments to child support obligations, visitation schedules, or custody arrangements. These adjustments allow support and custody plans to continue to adequately reflect the circumstances of the parents and the needs of the child or children.

Legitimation/Paternity

Cases in which parties seek to have a court make a legal determination regarding the father of a child born out of wedlock are referred to as either legitimation or paternity actions, depending on whether a father or mother is seeking the determination. Conclusively establishing the identity of a child's biological father is usually a first step for a mother seeking child support from that father. It is also necessary when a father wants to establish court-ordered visitation with a child or when a father wants to obtain physical custody of a child.

Guardianship and Conservatorship

In certain situations, individuals may ask a court to be appointed as a legal guardian for a minor child or an incapacitated adult (frequently referred to as the "ward"). Guardianship is usually appropriate only in limited sets of circumstances, such as when parents become unable to care for their children or when a person is unable to care for themselves. A person appointed as a legal guardian is thought be the guardian of the ward's "person" and is typically responsible for providing basic necessities to the ward like shelter, food, and clothing.

Conservatorship is an even more specialized process whereby a petitioner is appointed by the court the manage the financial affairs of another person. It is related conceptually to guardianship, but a conservator's job is typically much more specific and limited.

Both guardianships and conservatorships may be either permanent or temporary, and both are administered by the Probate Court.

Adoption

In typical adoption cases, the parental rights of a child's biological parents are transferred to a new parent or set of parents. These cases can arise in a variety of factual contexts, but the most common involve stepparents who want to adopt their stepchildren, children adopted through the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services, and adoptions arranged by parents themselves.
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