uncontested divorce lawyers GeorgiaChild Custody Overview

The Uniform Child Custody Act (UCCA) has been enacted by all 50 states, including Georgia, with the goal of reducing interstate child custody disputes.  Georgia child custody rules, which were updated in 1978 to comply with the UCCA, enable parents and guardians to share custody and acknowledge grandparent visiting rights.

Georgia courts distinguish between legal and physical custody. The right of a parent or guardian to make key life choices, such as education and religious upbringing, is referred to as legal custody.  The choice of which parent or guardian the kid will reside with is referred to as physical custody. Legal and/or physical custody may be shared by one (sole custody) or both (joint custody) parents, as in other states.

A shared legal custody agreement, for example, permits both parents to make key life choices for their children.  Even if the non-custodial parent has visitation rights or shares legal custody, the kid lives with one parent full-time under a single physical custody arrangement.

Georgia child custody rules allow children aged 14 and up to pick which parent they want to live with, but a court may overturn that choice if the judge believes it is not in the kid’s best interests.

When it comes to child custody agreements in Georgia, both parents are treated equally.  The court has the option of awarding joint or exclusive custody. Georgia’s child custody rules divide custody into two categories: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody refers to the authority to make key choices about a kid.  Both parents have equal rights and obligations in making key choices about the kid when they have shared legal custody.  When it comes to medical, educational, extracurricular, and religious issues, one parent has ultimate say.

The kid’s physical custody refers to who the youngster lives with. Both parents have almost equal time and interaction with the kid when they have shared physical custody.  The court may order joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both when granting joint custody.

Children in Georgia who are 14 years old or older often make a custody decision about which parent they desire to reside with.  However, if a court determines that living with the child’s chosen parent is not in the child’s best interests, the judge may overturn the custody decision.

Parenting Plan

A Parenting Plan is necessary under Georgia child custody rules for every custody arrangement.  A Parenting Plan is an actual pleading filed with the court by the judge, or by the parties in an uncontested case.  See O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1. In general, the Parenting Plan must take into account the following:

  • It is in the child’s best interests to have a tight and lasting parent-child connection as well as continuity in the child’s life.
  • As a child ages, his or her requirements vary and expand, and parents should be aware of this to avoid needing future changes (modifications) to a Parenting Plan.
  • While the kid is staying with the parent who has physical custody, that parent will make day-to-day and emergency choices.
  • Both parents will have access to all of their child’s records and information, including school, health, extracurricular activities, and religious instruction.

Unless the parents agree or the court determines differently, a Parenting Plan will usually outline:

  • Every day of the year, where the youngster will spend his or her time.
  • Who the child will be with for holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks, and other significant occasions.
  • Arrangements for transportation, including how and where the kid will be exchanged, as well as how transportation expenses will be covered.
  • Whether or if monitoring is required, and if so, what kind of supervision is required.
  • How the parents would distribute decision-making power in the areas of education, health, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing for their children. The Parenting Plan will detail how to address a scenario in which the parents dispute if the parties agree that problems should be resolved jointly.
  • What, if any, restrictions apply when one parent has physical custody in terms of the other parent’s ability to contact the kid and access to information about the child?

Child Support

Child support payments in Georgia are usually determined using a formula. These estimates are based on a variety of criteria, including both parents’ gross income, self-employment taxes, any prior child support orders, whether either parent is supporting another kid, and health insurance premiums, among others.

The Georgia Child Support Commission has designed an online child support calculator to help you figure out how much child support your children may be entitled to.

Child support in Georgia is generally required to be paid until the child reaches the age of 18, dies, marries, or becomes emancipated. If a kid is in secondary school, payments may continue until the youngster reaches the age of twenty.

What Is Primary Physical Custody and How Does It Work?

The word “primary custody” is not defined under Georgia law.  By law, there are four types of custody in this state, including:

  • Sole Custody:  One parent has custody of the child every day and every evening.  However, the other parent may have visitation during the day on a set schedule.
  • Primary Custody:  One parent has the child more than half the time (primary custodian).  The other parent has secondary custody, and will have the child on a set schedule, including overnights.
  • Joint Custody:  Both parents have the child an equal amount of time each year.  Both parents will have an equal number of overnight custody days with the child.

In the vast majority of situations, the courts will grant shared physical custody, sometimes with a schedule that is not conducive to the parents’ work schedules  This is why it is best for most parties to settle a case and enter into their own mutually agreed upon Parenting Plan.  The “primary custodial parent” (essential for declaring dependents on tax forms) will be one parent, while the other will be the “non-custodial” or “secondary custodial” parent.

This does not imply that one parent is superior to the other.  It simply means that the court, guided by the idea of “best interests of the child” and has determined that the child will spend at least 50.1 percent of his or her time with one parent and the remaining time with the other.  As a result, one parent that has the child the majority of the time has “primary physical custody” and will also usually be entitled to receive child support.

What Factors Go Into Determining Physical Custody?

In general, the court will decide that the primary physical custodian will be the parent who has been the child’s primary caretaker.  The parent who typically gets the child up and ready for school in the morning, drives the child to doctor’s visits, and extracurricular activities. The court will also usually consider which parent helps the most with schoolwork and attends parent-teacher conferences.

The court is concerned about the stability of the arrangements and wishes to make a decision in the child’s best interests. When deciding physical custody, the court will consider the parents employment schedules, income, and household stability.

Primary custody is a crucial choice since one parent will almost certainly get to spend daily time with the children rather than merely seeing them on vacations or holidays. You should not attempt to make this choice alone since it is so important that the right decision are made and included in the Parenting Plan.  Consulting with an experienced Georgia uncontested divorce attorney can help resolve many of these issues and more.

Physical Custody can be Equal

How well you and your ex get along and collaborate will determine this.  Judges are less likely to award 50/50 split custody if the divorce is contested.  That’s because co-parents must get along most of the time, agree on the child’s daily routine as well as key life and legal issues, and be able to settle conflicts with minimum disruption.  However, the court will generally approve joint (50/50) custody in uncontested divorce cases so long as the Parenting Plan is drafted with the required specificity.

The court will generally consider the following if the parents do not settle their divorce case before the trial:

  • The distance between each of the houses.  To keep the child’s school routine going smoothly and reduce the stress of extended journey periods, custody-sharing parents must reside in close vicinity.
  • The parents’ time and capacity to fulfill parenting responsibilities.  You’ll need to be able to bring your kid to appointments and extracurricular activities on time, so having a steady or flexible work schedule may be important. You’ll also want to show that you have the time and dedication to fully participate in your child’s upbringing.
  • The child’s age and special requirements.  Young children and those with special emotional needs or physical disabilities may benefit from a primary custody arrangement, while older children and those with special emotional needs or physical disabilities may benefit from a primary custody arrangement.  When considering custody arrangements, the court hearing your case will consider these facts carefully.
  • The desires of the child.  When a child reaches the age of 14, he or she may select which parent to live with, and courts will typically respect that decision if it is in the child’s best interests.  Judges may also examine the wishes of a child aged 11 to 13, but other considerations, such as the child’s educational requirements, will take precedence.
  • Whether or if both parents agree on a 50/50 split. If one parent opposes a 50/50 shared custody agreement, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it certainly helps if you and your spouse are on the same page.  Factors that might jeopardize your chances of achieving a 50/50 joint custody arrangement if you and your spouse disagree Both parents agree on all aspects of child custody.
  • If you and your spouse can’t agree on custody arrangements or your relationship is too turbulent to reach an agreement, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem or order a custody review, among other things. Judges are frequently hesitant to provide equal custody to parents who are vehemently opposed or show overt hatred.  If at all feasible, try to settle disagreements via mediation and negotiations.

When determining what is in the best interests of the kid, the court will evaluate both parents’ actions throughout the marriage.  Factors affecting each parent’s ability to care for the kid and provide a healthy environment will be particularly important.  There are times when one partner is deemed unable to parent, frequently as a result of abuse, neglect, or drug problems.  Courts may request an inquiry into allegations of abuse or neglect by one or both parents if they believe it is necessary.  When both parents are deemed to be unsuitable, custody may be given to a third party, such as a grandparent or close family.

Frequently Asked Questions About Georgia’s Joint (50/50) Custody

1. Is It Difficult for a Father to Get Joint Custody of His Children?

When it comes to custody disputes in Georgia, the courts do not favor moms, therefore men should not be at a disadvantage when pursuing 50/50 custody.  The best interests of the kid and the capacity of the parents to work together and carry out any shared custody arrangement will be the major considerations affecting the decision.

2. Is Child Support Affected by Joint Custody? Will I Have to Pay Less Than a Parent Who Doesn’t Have Custody?

In Georgia, child support is determined using a formula that considers both parents’ income as well as the kid’s essential costs.  The court may make many modifications to these, one of which is known as the parenting time deviation.

Your child support obligation may be restructured at the discretion of the courts if you are caring for the kid for a longer period of time than the usual parent, either due to shared custody or extended visitation.  However, each circumstance will be assessed in light of the kid’s best interests, and shared custody does not necessarily imply decreased child support payments.

3. What Is Joint Custody Scheduling and How Does It Work?

Most people are familiar with joint custody arrangements in which the kid spends one week with one parent and the next with the other, but there are a variety of alternative options that benefit both children and parents.

A 2-2-3 plan allows the kid to spend two nights with each parent and then three nights with one, with the parents rotating the three-night weekend each week.  There are also week-on-week-off arrangements, in which the kid spends seven days with one parent and the parents switch custody at the start or conclusion of the weekend.

When determining the best custody plan for everyone, take into account your child’s requirements and temperament, as well as your own duties.

4. After our divorce, I was denied joint custody. Is it possible for me to get it right now?

Relationships change, circumstances shift, and custody agreements shift as well.  If you and your spouse were not originally given joint custody, you and your spouse may be able to renegotiate it after some time has gone, intense sentiments have cooled down, and you have a solid track record of cooperating in parenting your children.

A court may prefer a shared custody agreement if you have a better work schedule, are closer to your ex, and are able to cooperate with him or her. In addition, when small children grow older, a court may decide that shared custody is preferable than sole custody.  Consider discussing your case with one of our experienced family law and divorce attorneys to help in determining your alternatives.

Updated: 2022-10-19