Child Custody in Georgia

Child Custody in Georgia

Types of Child Custody in Georgia

In Georgia, courts can award parents two types of custody: legal and physical custody. With legal custody, a parent has the right to be included in the decision-making process regarding the medical, educational, religious, and extracurricular needs of their child. Physical custody simply refers to the parent the child lives with primarily. Joint physical custody involves both parents having equal time with their child, while sole physical custody involves the child primarily living with one parent and possibly having visitation with the other. Depending on the best interest of the child and your case specifics, courts can award one parent sole physical and/or legal custody or award both parents with either joint legal custody or joint physical custody or both.

Is Georgia a “Mothers’ State”?

Many people believe that states award custody of children to mothers more often than fathers, and those states are referred to as mothers’ states. In Georgia, custody determinations are gender-neutral, and court-ordered custody awards are based on the best interest of the child and the case specifics without consideration to gender.

Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live with in Georgia?

Children 11 years of age or old can share their preferences, concerning primary physical custody, with the court. The court will take the preference of children aged 11-13; however, children aged 14 or older will be placed with their preferred parent unless the “non-selected parent can prove that the other parent is unfit or unable to provide for the child. Children 14 years of age or older can also request a change in custody every two years.

The Best Interest of the Child: What Factors Are Considered?

In determining child custody, the best interest of the child takes precedence. A judge will consider a host of factors concerning the child’s best interest, including but not limited to:

  • Each parent’s relationship with the child, specifically relating to their love, affection, bond, and current emotional ties
  • The child’s relationship (bond, emotional ties, etc.) with any siblings, half-siblings, and stepsiblings and their residence
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to raise, educate, and care for the child emotionally, financially, and mentally
  • Each parent’s familiarity with the child and the child’s specific needs
  • Each parent’s capacity to offer the child adequate food, shelter, medical care, clothing, day-to-day needs, and other necessities (considering potential child support payment as well)
  • The home environment each parent can provide (with consideration to the home’s safety)
  • The stability of each parent’s family unit and support system (i.e. friends, community, etc.)
  • Each parent’s mental and physical health
  • Each parent’s level of involvement in the child’s social, educational, and/or extracurricular activities
  • Each parent’s willingness to help foster and maintain the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Evidence of substance abuse or domestic violence (or other criminal activity or child abuse) by either parent
  • Recommendations made by a court-appointed guardian ad litem (or custody evaluator)

For more information on the relevant factors concerning the best interest of the child and the establishment of custody and visitation, you can review O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3.

Parenting Plans in Georgia

Under O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1, in all child custody cases (except when a parent is seeking emergency relief concerning family violence), parents must complete and submit a parenting plan. This plan can be drafted and submitted separately or jointly (depending on whether they can agree on a plan). When seeking custody modifications or permanent custody actions, a parenting plan is required.

A parenting plan includes (but is not limited to) the following information (unless otherwise determined by the court):

  • Where and when each parent will be responsible for their child’s physical care
  • How a child will spend holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks, and any other special occasions (with consideration to the time of day they will be with either parent)
  • The drop-off and pick-up locations where the parents will exchange their child
  • The transportation arrangement (i.e. how transportation costs will be handled, etc.) concerning how the child will be exchanged
  • Whether one or both parents will have decision-making authority regarding their child’s health, education, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing, etc.
  • Recognition that the child’s needs will change as the child ages and that this maturation will be considered when making the parenting plan
  • Recognition that it is in the child’s best interest to have a relationship with both parents (if possible)

If one party is an active-duty member of the military, a parenting plan will include (but not be limited to) the following information.

  • How the child will maintain contact or communication with their deployed parent
  • How the transition of physical custody will work if a parent is deployed
  • If or how a deployed parent’s parenting time may be delegated to their extended family
  • How the parenting plan will be resumed once the deployed party returns home

If you are filing for divorce or separation, a petition for custody will be included in your agreement. A parenting plan must be included with that petition.

Get Help from Our Child Custody Attorneys Today

At Balbo & Gregg, Attorneys at Law, PC, we understand how emotional and taxing family law cases, especially child custody matters, can be. We are equipped to help parents (civilian and/or military) getting divorced and/or seeking child custody determinations to:

  • Protect their interests as well as their child’s
  • Understand their legal options and the legal process
  • File your custody petition
  • Handle the case legalities

Our attorneys have over 40 years of combined experience, and we are here to help families navigate their child custody cases with as little stress as possible. Schedule a case consultation online or call (866) 580-3089 today.