Child Custody in Georgia - Uncontested Divorce Lawyers GeorgiaGeorgia 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 child 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 children may live primarily or solely with one parent depending on the physical custody arrangement.  Most parents would prefer to decide this between each other in the context of an uncontested divorce.  However, this article is designed to give a framework of what some of the options are and how the court may decide them if the parties cannot agree.

Child Custody in General

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:  Legal custody refers to the authority to make key choices about a child.  Both parents have equal rights and obligations in making key choices about the child when they have shared legal custody.  Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties in an uncontested divorce, or ordered by the court, one parent will usually have the final decision making authority for all medical, educational, extracurricular, and religious decisions.
  • Physical Custody:  The children’s physical custody refers to who the children live with.  Both parents have almost equal time and interaction with the child 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.

The Child’s Preferences

As stated above, 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 child’s best interests.  In addition, children aged 11, 12, and 13 are allowed to voice their preferences regarding their primary physical custodial parent, which the court will consider in its final decision.  However, if the parties settle their case and sign a Parenting Plan that outlines this agreement, a judge will not usually overrule the parent’s agreement.

Parenting Plan

A Parenting Plan is necessary under Georgia child custody laws for every custody arrangement.  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 future changes.
  • While the child 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.

A parenting plan will typically outline: 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.
  • How will you spend your holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks, and other significant occasions?
  • Arrangements for transportation, including how and where the children 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 child.
  • What, if any, restrictions apply to access of medical and school 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 child, 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 child is in secondary school, payments may continue until the youngster reaches the age of twenty.

What Is Primary Custody and How Does It Work?

The word “primary custody” is not defined under Georgia law.  However, by law, there are different types of custody in Georgia, including:

  • Sole Physical Custody
  • Sole Legal Custody
  • Joint Legal Custody
  • Joint Physical Custody
  • Primary Physical Custody
  • Secondary Physical Custody

In the vast majority of situations, the courts will grant shared physical custody, usually granting one parent every other weekend with the children and alternating holidays.  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” 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 children,” 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 is given “primary physical custody.”  In certain cases, a parent may be granted sole custody and obtain complete physical custody.  However, this does not mean the other parent will not be granted some visitation, even if it has to be supervised.  It is important to note, that although a parent may have visitation with their child, if they do not have custody (primary or secondary), they will not have overnight visitation with the child.

What Factors Go Into Determining Physical Custody?

In general, the main custodian will be the parent who has been the primary caretaker.  Who gets the child up and ready for school in the morning?  Who drives the youngster to doctor’s visits and attends extracurricular activities?  Which parent helps with schoolwork and attends parent-teacher conferences?  Generally, both parents would attend parent-teacher conferences and share in as many activities as possible.

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 employment schedules, money, and household stability, as well as the issues above.

Primary physical 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.  Moving ahead, a competent family law attorney may make all the difference.

Physical Custody can split 50/50

How well you and your ex-spouse 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.  The following are issues the court considers when making child custody decisions:

  • The distance between each of the parent’s homes:  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.
  • Time and capacity to fulfill parenting responsibilities:  Parents need to be able to bring their children to appointments and extracurricular activities on time, so having a steady or flexible work schedule may be important.  When asking the court for custody, 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 and consider 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.

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 compromise and mediation.

When determining what is in the best interests of the children, the court will evaluate both parents’ actions throughout the marriage.  Factors affecting each parent’s ability to care for the child 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

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 child and the capacity of the parents to work together and carry out any shared custody arrangement will be the major considerations affecting the decision.

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 child’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 child 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 children’s best interests, and shared custody does not necessarily imply decreased child support payments.

What Is Joint Custody Scheduling and How Does It Work?

Most people are familiar with joint custody arrangements in which the children 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 child 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 child 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 the child’s requirements and temperament, as well as your own duties.

In our divorce, I was did not get 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-spouse, and are able to cooperate with him or her.  In addition, when small children grow older, a court may decide that joint custody is preferable than sole custody.  An experienced divorce attorney can assist you in determining your alternatives.

The Uniform Child Custody Act (UCCA)

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.

Obtaining help with your Georgia Uncontested Divorce involving Child Custody

If you have questions about divorce and child custody, call us at 470-947-2471 to speak with one of our experienced uncontested divorce attorneys. We offer free consultation for uncontested divorce cases.  Contact >>

Updated: 2022-05-10