In cases involving a child, often the two biggest areas of contention circle around child support and visitation. Frequently, cases will only make their way into court because of child support and visitation. As parents, it is natural to tie these issues together and think that if you have one, you must have the other – but in the eyes of Georgia Law this is not always so neatly packaged.
Did you know, just because you have an order to pay child support, that does not mean you have any rights for visitation? In Georgia, a child born out of wedlock is only legally linked to the mother of the child. If the mother and father end their relationship, the mother can be awarded child support from the father and never have to agree to any parenting plan or allow any visitation.
Georgia Law holds, “It is the joint and several duty of each parent to provide for the maintenance, protection, and education of his or her child until the child reaches the age of majority, dies, marries, or becomes emancipated…” The Georgia Court of appeals has explained this statute, holding that a “[p]arent had a statutory duty to support the parent's children, with or without a court order...” This means that even if there is no court order requiring you to pay child support, you still have a duty to provide some kind of monetary support for your child. This is why it is possible for some parents to seek a form of retro-active support from a parent who was not previously under any court order, and therefore had not provided any prior support for the child.
You should note that nothing in any of these rules regarding child support mentions anything about visitation. If you want visitation, if you want any form of custody, you have to seek it. It doesn’t come as the flip side of a child support coin.
I often encounter non-custodial parents who have chosen not exercise any, or at best very sporadic, visitation time with their child, until they get brought into court for child support. As soon as there is an order requiring a payment, their drive for visitation gets pushed to the forefront. The truth is, the right to visitation is not tied to your paying for your child’s needs. If you do not exercise visitation or spend time with your child, you are the one who is missing out on the gift of watching your child grow and being a part of their life. Of course, odds are your child is the worse for wear, too.
On the other hand, I meet many custodial parents who believe that if they are not getting their child support, they can withhold visitation. This could not be further from the truth. Children need emotional, physical, and financial support from their parents, and if a parent is not providing one aspect, you cannot take away the other two. If you are not receiving child support, you need to talk with an attorney and discuss strategies to get the support you need for your child, not take away the type of support your child is able to get from the other parent.
Also importantly, the law does not look at these issues as interrelated. You cannot defend against an assertion that you refused visitation by raising a defense of no payment of child support. That is a text book recipe for a losing case.
So while parenting time and child support are both integral parts of raising a child, and while they are both large parts of the family law litigation process, they are not in and of themselves connected issues. If you are unsure how this balance applies to your case, you should speak with an attorney who can explain these issues to you as they really are two distinct heads on what is often the same litigation beast.
Child support and visitation. Find that balance.