How is Child Custody handled in Georgia?

In Georgia divorce and family law courts, a parenting plan is the portion of the divorce decree that states the custody agreement of the children. A parenting plan is required for the dissolution of any marriage that resulted in children. People are sometimes surprised to learn that there are two types of child custody, physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is where the child resides the majority of the time. In Georgia courts, legal custody is legal decision-making ability on behalf of the child. Legal custody is made up of four major types of major decisions:

  • education;
  • religion;
  • healthcare and;
  • extra curricular activities.

How is physical custody decided in Georgia?

The parents can agree on the best physical custody arrangement for their child and as long as everyone is in agreement, the courts will generally enforce the parents’ wishes. Physical custody decided by a court will be decided in the best interest of the child at the time of the divorce. There is no presumption in favor of either parent. Parents may not decide custody of children using pre or post nuptial agreements because the standard for determining custody will always be what is best for the child at that point in time.

The current trend in Georgia courts is to grant joint custody in which the child is at one home during the week and another on the weekends. Courts are beginning to recognize that children need stability and routine during the school week. This means 50/50 custody is often not determined to be in the best interest of the children.

In some cases, one parent may be awarded sole custody. In sole custody arrangements, the children live with one parent full time and the other parent is allowed visitation for short periods of time. If there is concern that the child may be in danger, the visits may require supervision.

Can legal custody be shared in Georgia?

Yes, parents who can generally agree on decisions for the child may share in the decision making process. The parents will work together to decide the child’s healthcare, educational, religious, and extra curricular needs. The primary caregiver will make the decision in the event the parents cannot agree. This type of arrangement requires the parents to communicate amicably and often.

It is also possible to create a unique legal custody arrangement based on the needs of the individual family. For example, some parents may agree to each pick one extra curricular in which the child participates so that both parents have a voice in activities. Some parents may agree that the child attends the church of the parent who has the child at that time.

If frequent communication is not preferred, parents may choose to split legal decision-making responsibilities, each taking two decisions. For example, one parent may make healthcare and educational decisions while the other parent makes extra curricular and religious experiences.

Sometimes having a legal custody right may incur extra costs. For example, if the child is in private school, the parent who has the educational responsibility may be responsible for paying tuition if the parent wishes for the child to remain in private school. Similarly, the parent in charge of extra curricular activities may be responsible for paying for the chosen activities. In these cases, a deviation for child support payments may be incurred. Your attorney can advise on whether child support commitments may be lowered by deviations.

What factors are used by Georgia family law and divorce courts to determine custody?

The following facts may be taken into consideration by the courts when determining which parent will be awarded primary custody

  • Characteristics and needs of each child- social, moral, emotional, physical
  • Homes of each parent
  • Characteristics of parents- stability, mental and physical health
  • Interpersonal relationship and bond between the parent and children
  • Preference of children
  • Work schedules
  • Which parent is currently the primary caregiver (i.e. provides meals, baths, rides to school and extra curriculars, etc)
  • Recommendations of experts, investigators, psychologist, guardian
  • Effects on children of disruption to their current routine
  • Each parents’ ability to get the children to school consistently and on time
  • Any other matter the court deems relevant

In Georgia, can a child custody agreement be modified later?

Yes, but only in the event that one of the parties has experienced a material change in circumstances that will affect the best interests of the child. The court will always consider a change in residence to be a material change that will warrant a hearing. A child may choose where he or she wants to live at the age of fourteen. If a child reaches fourteen and wants to make a change in custody, the court will hear the request. Mental illness of the custodial parent, drug abuse, and domestic violence are all issues that will warrant a hearing on a request to modify the agreement. In sole custody arrangements, the agreement may also be modified when the parent that only had visitation rights experiences an improvement in circumstances.

If you are facing a divorce or family law case involving child custody, call our Georgia Divorce and Family Law firm at 470-947-2471 to speak to one of our knowledgeable and caring attorney about how we can help in you you.