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Child Custody

Physical custody is the schedule by which the parents share parenting time. Legal custody is how decisions regarding the children will be made and generally includes education, healthcare, extra-curricular activities and religious upbringing.

When parents of children are divorced, when two unmarried parents separate or when a parent is granted legal rights for the first time, child custody laws in Georgia usually require the creation of a Parenting Plan Order. The Parenting Plan establishes and details legal and physical custody, and becomes a Court Order, signed by a judge. 

Physical custody is the schedule that establishes which parent the children are physically with and when. Parents may have joint physical custody, in which they have equal time with the children (such as one week with parent “A” and one week with parent “B”), or more commonly, one parent may be designated as the “primary physical custodian,” in which case the other parent is granted specified “parenting time” or “visitation” (such as every other Thursday to Monday). Physical custody also establishes holiday parenting time, such as during winter and summer breaks from school.

Legal custody governs how major decisions regarding the children will be made. In the vast majority of cases, the parents share “joint” legal custody, but one parent receives “final decision making authority” or what is sometimes referred to as “tie breaking authority.” Final decision making or tie breaking authority is used to resolve an impasse between parents regarding a major decision. Categories in which one parent is vested with final decision making authority include non-emergency healthcare, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. Good faith discussion and consideration of the views of the other parent is required before a parent invokes his or her final decision making authority.

With the assistance of their attorneys, most parents are able to agree upon a Parenting Plan, which is then submitted to the judge for approval. However, in contentious custody cases, a trial may be necessary, in which the judge makes the decision. In Georgia, juries do not decide custody issues. 

In contested custody cases, the Court may appoint a guardian ad litem (typically a family law attorney) and/or a custody evaluator (typically a licensed psychologist) to perform an investigation and make a recommendation to the judge. These are neutral experts who represent only the interests of the child(ren).

Child Custody Considerations

Under child custody laws in Ga., factors that are considered in making a custody decision are:

  1. The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
  2. The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children;
  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, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent;
  6. The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
  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 educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
  11. Each parent’s employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
  12. The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
  13. Each parent’s past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
  14. The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child;
  15. Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
  16. Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
  17. Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.

See O.C.G.A. 19-9-3.

For additional help understanding child custody laws in Ga., call the expert lawyers at Shockley Dodson Deeb today.

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