- by Tracy Crider
When facing a custody case, one of the most frustrating aspects can be familiarizing yourself with the terminology being used. What exactly does Joint Custody mean in Georgia? What does the distinction between legal custody and physical custody mean? Why does that matter to me?
When you are beginning a custody case, whether through a divorce action, legitimation action or even in a custody modification, the legal terminology utilized in legal pleadings and court orders is very important. Here is a breakdown of the different forms of custody in Georgia and what they mean in practical terms:
Legal custody typically refers to the legal rights of a parent. This encompasses a person’s right to obtain medical records, school records and to have legal authority to make decisions concerning his or her child. It is very common in custody cases for parents to share Legal custody, this is true even in cases where the child lives primarily in one household and may only see the other parent on weekends and during the summer. Georgia code §19-9-6 defines Joint legal custody as both parents having equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child’s education, healthcare, extracurricular activities and religious training. This means that both parties are entitled to be informed about important events and developments concerning the child. Both parents shall have the right to give input and take part in decisions concerning the child. Both parents will have the legal right to equal access to information concerning the children. However, the code goes on to provide an important distinction: judges have the right to designate one parent to have final decision-making authority to act as a tie-breaker in the event the parties cannot agree.
In a practical sense, this prevents the parties from having to return to court each time there is a disagreement over an issue concerning the child. Sometimes courts will divide final decision-making authority between the parents, giving one parent tie-breaking authority over health care and extracurricular activities and the other parent tie-breaking authority over education and religious training, as an example. In custody cases, it is vital to ensure that you have established a clear and workable path to handling decisions regarding your child, sharing information and co-parenting in an effective manner. Having legal representation helps immensely in navigating these decisions to reach the outcome that is best for your family and your particular circumstances.
Physical custody typically deals with where the child is physically residing on a regular basis. The courts have a great deal of discretion in what they are permitted to do regarding physical custody. In a shared physical custody arrangement (sometimes referred to as 50/50 custody), some parents rotate the child on a weekly basis and some split the week. In a more traditional custody arrangement, one parent is the primary physical custodian, meaning the parent with whom the child lives the majority of the time. The parties’ respective parenting time with the child established under their custody arrangement has an impact on child support and it also impacts who is able to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes. Again, establishing the right physical custody arrangement for your family is of the utmost importance. Often times, crafting each party’s parenting time with the child can be one of the most hotly contested issue in custody cases. Having an attorney to advocate on your behalf is important to protect your rights and to ensure your child’s best interests are protected.
Consult an Atlanta Family Law Attorney
For over 28 years and 10,000 cases of local Georgia divorce experience, Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor is recognized as one of the most reputable collaborative family law practices in Atlanta. With veteran, core, services such as child custody & support, alimony & spousal support, paternity and father’s rights, adoption, domestic partnerships and grandparent’s rights, the SM&P approach has proven to be respectful, attentive and resolution-driven. To schedule a consultation with Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor click here, or call (678) 971-3413.