Top Child Custody Q&As in Georgia

Top Child Custody Q&As in Georgia

Victoria Pappas
 | 

According to a report conducted by the United States Census Bureau, in 2018 a little over ¼ of all children under the age of 21 had a parent that lived outside their household (approximately 21.9 million children).

 

If you and your spouse have kids together and are separating, you likely have to think about the custody of your children. Typically, if you cannot come to an agreement, the court will decide the custody of your children. 

 

Child custody can be a complex process. Here are some answers to child custody questions you many have if you live in the state of Georgia.

 

What types of custody are there? 

 

In Georgia, there is legal custody and physical custody. 

 

Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about a child’s life from anything like the child’s education to their medical decisions to their extracurricular activities or religious upbringing. 

 

Typically, Georgia courts will try and give parents joint legal custody. This means that both parents will have access to things like the child's school and medical records, have the ability to enroll them in school, etc. 

 

However, one parent may have sole legal custody, meaning they are the only parent able to make such decisions for the child. 

 

Physical custody refers to the time the child gets to spend with each parent and decides who the child lives with and for how long. Like legal custody, physical custody can either be joint or sole. 

 

Again, courts will try and give joint physical custody if it is feasible. Children will live with both parents but at different times. 

 

With sole physical custody, the children will live with one parent full time. Usually the other parent is then allowed visitation rights

 

Georgia law has a preference for joint legal custody between the two parents, so that both can be involved with important decisions regarding the child’s life. However, physical custody can be different. Judges sometimes have a preference for giving one parent sole physical custody, presumably so the children have one home and do not have to move back and forth constantly. Even with joint physical custody, an even split of time between the two homes can be impractical for the children. 

 

There is also a third option, where one parent gets primary physical custody and the other gets secondary physical custody. This arrangement means that the child will live with and be taken care of by the parent who has primary physical custody a majority of the time. The parent with secondary physical custody will spend a certain amount of time with the child as well. 

 

Does my child’s opinion matter? 

 

In Georgia, children who are 14 years or older can decide which parent they would like to live with.

 

Even if the child states which parent they would like to live with, the parents can submit evidence showing that such a living situation would not be in the best interest of the child. It can be very difficult to override the wishes of a child. 

 

Children ages 11-13 can voice their opinion and the judge may take it into consideration, however the child’s needs are the first priority and the judge will ultimately make a decision that's in the best interest of the child, not necessarily what the child age 11-13 prefers.

 

How does the court decide who gets custody? 

 

If the children’s parents are able to get along and work with each other, then the two can come up with a parenting plan together to decide the custody of the child. The parents must decide on a number of issues and write out a very detailed plan on how they will address the issues, such as where the child will live, visitation, etc. Parenting plans are usually a part of the divorce agreement. 

 

The plan also has to be validated by a court, which can be difficult because the courts have very specific requirements in order to approve these plans. This is where hiring a lawyer would be very useful. 

 

In Georgia if the parents are not married, then the mother is the only person allowed to have legal or physical custody of the child. Fathers do not get automatic rights. Father’s must prove they are the biological father and go through the process of “legitimation.” If the mother does not consent to legitimation, then the father can bring action in court. 

 

A study reported that divorced Georgia dad’s only receive 23.5% of their child’s time, one of the lowest percentages in the country. If you are a father in Georgia, it is important to get a lawyer to help you through the complex process of custody and to fight for your child. 

 

If the married (and or soon to be divorced) parents cannot come to an agreement, then the court will make the custody decision for them. 

 

There are many factors that the judge will consider in deciding the custody arrangement but the most important and significant factor is the best interest of the child. The child is the most important person when deciding custody. 

 

The judge will also take into account the child’s preferences. Other factors like the child’s age, current school, and daily schedule will play a role in the decision. 

 

The judge will also look at the parents. The parent’s work schedule, how far apart they live, where they live, home life, other obligations are all factors a judge will consider when making the custody decision. 

 

Judges will also see if the parent is physically and mentally capable of taking care of the child. Some parents may be unfit due to illness, past behavior that may put the child in danger such as neglect or violence. If both parents are found to be unfit, the court can assign third party custody to someone like a grandparent or other close relative. 

 

Can I change the child custody agreement? 

 

Custody agreements, even if made by the court, can be changed. Usually this only occurs if there has been a significant change in the circumstances of either parent or the child that would affect the best interests of the child after the custody agreement has already been made. Visitation can also be changed as well. 

 

Again, the child comes first. So if you want to change the agreement you will have to prove that the best interest of the child is not being met by the current custody agreement and it must be changed for the betterment of the child. 

 

Getting custody orders can be an overwhelming process. It is extremely important that the child’s interests are put first. A Georgia experienced family law attorney can explain state specific laws, your parenting rights, and custody options. Visit LawChamps.com to find a lawyer to help you. 

 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

 
Victoria Pappas

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