Georgia Child Custody 

Georgia Child Custody Lawyer

There are two main types of custody:  physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody means that the parent has right to have the child live with them on a full time basis, while the other parent may have visitation rights.  Legal custody means that the parent has the right to make legal decisions for the child pertaining to things like education, medical care, religious upbringing, etc.  Often times, legal custody is shared 50/50, but physical custody may be more unequal.  For example, if a spouse is awarded primary physical custody with joint legal custody, then the other spouse may be awarded visitation rights and joint legal custody.  The parent who is awarded physical custody is usually referred to as the “custodial parent.”

So, how do the parents figure out when the non-custodial parent gets to visit with the child?  First, the parties can simply agree to a plan.  This is called a parenting plan.  It is literally a written document that details when the non-custodial parent will be allowed to visit with the child.  It will list a plan for the number of times per week, month, and year, the number of over-night visits, which holidays the spouse will receive the child, etc.  Essentially, the parenting plan lists an agenda for the child for the entire year, such that everyone is on the same page with respect to where the child will be on a day to day basis.

How does the court determine custody?

The overarching goal in determining custody is to determine whatever is in the best interests of the child.  You will hear this phrase over and over throughout a divorce proceeding, or even a petition to modify custody.

First off, the parties can simply agree to a custody arrangement and parenting plan.  Of course, it will still be up to the judge to approve it.

If the parties cannot agree as to custody, then the judge has to make the determination.  Keep in mind that while Georgians are entitled to a jury trial in a divorce, only a judge can determine custody.  So, while a jury can split up property and determine alimony, only a judge can determine custody and child support.

In determining what is in the best interests of the child, the judge will consider a number of factors, including:

  1. The emotional ties existing between each parent and the child
  2. The emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings
  3. 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
  4. Each parent’s knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child’s needs
  5. 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
  6. The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. The mental and physical health of each parent
  10. Each parent’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the child’s education, social, and extracurricular activities
  11. Each parent’s past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities
  12. The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child

What is “Joint Custody?”

Joint custody can apply with respect to both physical custody and legal custody.

Joint physical custody means that both parents get equal amounts of time with the child – equal meaning, exactly 50/50.  For example, this may mean that the child spends one day and night at mom’s house, and then one day and night at dad’s house, and then the cycle repeats.  Clearly, there are many other ways in which the parenting time may be split up 50/50.  For example, the child may spend the first half of the year with mom and the second half of the year with dad.

More often, though, there will be a “primary physical custodian,” meaning that the child is to stay with one parent more than 50% of the time.  This would mean that the other parent simply has visitation rights.  So, for example, dad may have physical custody of the child 60% of the time, while mom has the right to visitation the remaining 40% of the time.

“Visitation” does not necessarily meant that one parent has to go to the other parent’s house to “visit” with the child.  Visitation can, and usually does, include bringing the child to your house to stay with you, taking them to events, etc.

“Joint custody” can also apply in the context of legal custody.  Remember, legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child’s life (education, religion, etc.).  Joint legal custody is far more common than joint physical custody.  Joint legal custody means that each parent has an equal (50/50) say so in making decisions about the child’s life.

Need Help?

Needless to say, a divorce or child custody modification can be a daunting process, and it’s okay to Ask for Help.  If you are in the midst of a divorce or are just considering the idea, don’t hesitate to call (912) 525-0555 to schedule your initial consultation. Brad Dixon offers one hour consultations for $100, and if our office is retained to handle your case, that money is applied towards the balance of your next bill, such that your evaluation is free.  

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