Child custody refers to the legal guardianship involved in a divorce case. In Georgia, there are two forms of custody; legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the child's life decisions. Religious, medical, and educational decisions are made by the legal custodian(s). Legal custody can be granted to one parent, or decisions split between both parents.
Physical custody refers to where the child resides. One parent may have sole physical custody, with the other receiving scheduled visitation rights. Or, both parents may share physical custody, which means the child lives with each parent a portion of the time.
How is Child Custody Determined?
When deciding issues regarding child custody, courts in Georgia will consider the best interests of the child and the environment that will provide the most stability. The courts consider many factors, including:
- The age and sex of the child
- Compatibility with each parent
- The ability of each parent to care for and nurture the child
- Psychological, emotional and developmental needs of the child
- Ability of the parents to communicate
- Custodial agreements of the parents
- Prior and continuing care that the parents have given the child
- Wishes of the child
- Safety of the child
- Any history of domestic abuse
A child over 14 years of age may wield substantial influence over a court's decision to choose which parent will have primary custody. Remember, the court considers it important for a child to maintain a relationship with both parents. Therefore, visitation rights are still awarded to the parent who is not given primary custody of the child.
Are courts more likely to award child custody to the father or mother?
We are living in a society where gender stereotypes are slowing fading. There is no reason to believe that courts are more likely to award custody to the mother or the father. It is important to come up with a parenting plan that meets the child's needs and is in the child's best interest.
What is a parenting plan?
A court ordered arrangement of the custody and visitation details surrounding the child(ren)s day to day needs, along with a set of guidelines as to both parents rights and responsibilities regarding their child.
Can child custody be modified?
A court always maintains jurisdiction to change a custody order. Visitation may be changed as well, however there are certain 2 year limitations that may apply.
Can parents share custody?
Although it is rare, the court, in its discretion, can award joint custody instead of sole custody. There are two types of joint custody:
- Joint legal custody, which means that both parents have equal rights to and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child.
- Joint physical custody, which means that physical custody is shared by the parents in such a way that the child is assured substantially of equal time and contact with both parents.
Typically, the court awards joint legal custody to the primary physical custodian having the tie-breaking authority should the parties disagree on the decision regarding the minor child.
One parent has primary physical custody and the noncustodial parent has the standard visitation of every other weekend, alternating holidays and an extended period in the summer, and pays child support based on the Georgia State Child Support Guidelines.
Depending on what county you are filing for divorce in, those families who have children are required to attend an educational seminar as part of the adjudication process. This is not a marital counseling session, and not intended to get the parties back together. The required education program, entitled "Seminar for Parent of Minor Children," addresses issues specific to "families in transition," which includes parties involved in divorce, separate maintenance, paternity, change of custody, visitation, legitimation and other domestic relations matters involving children.
For additional information about child custody, explore our blog articles:
Our Child Custody Attorneys
Whether handling an amicable parenting plan or an emotionally charged child custody dispute, the family law attorneys at Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor provides all of our clients with caring and supportive legal advocacy. We handle child custody issues including:
- Legal custody, physical custody, temporary custody and visitation
Child support, child support enforcement and child support modification
- Guardian ad litem services regarding child custody and modification
- Grandparent custody, grandparent visitation and grandparents' rights
- Interstate jurisdictional issues under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).
Adoption services and post adoption support
Our managing partner, Randy Sabatini is especially well-known and has earned a stellar reputation for child custody cases. In addition, firm founder Mary Stearns-Montgomery has served as a guardian ad litem in Georgia and has extensive experience representing the best interests of children in family law matters.
At Stearns-Montgomery & Proctor, we are committed to providing the most effective level of service to each of our valued clients in a caring and compassionate manner. If you or someone you know is facing a child custody dispute, contact us today at (678) 971-3413.
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