Georgia Child Custody
How is custody decided in Georgia?
The standard in Georgia is to determine custody based on the best interests of the minor child. Unless one parent has been a danger to the child, the beginning point is to typically establish who has been the primary caregiver for the minor child.
In most cases, the primary caregiver will receive primary physical custody. The primary caregiver is the parent who wakes the child up for school, helps him/her get ready, provides meals, does bath time, takes the child to doctor’s appointments, is at parent-teacher events, etc. In cases where these duties are equally shared, it is a little more difficult for the judge to determine. Other factors the judge may consider are work schedules, who has available time for the children, stability, ability to provide, and, at a certain age, the child’s own desires.
When will custody be decided?
Custody may be decided by agreement, at a temporary hearing and/or final hearing.
What if we can’t agree on a custody arrangement?
If the parties cannot agree on a custody arrangement, then the judge will make the determination of custody. Even with a recommendation from a guardian ad litem, the judge still has full discretion to make the custody determination based on all evidence presented at trial.
When can I modify custody?
There are no time restrictions on when a modification of custody can be filed. The moving party must, however, be able to show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that would warrant modification.
What is an ex parte order?
An ex parte order is an order from a judge without having given opportunity for both parties to be heard. The only time that one can expect to receive an ex parte order is in a situation where the children may be in severe danger and giving the opposing party time to respond may result in significant harm to the child.
Types of Custody Arrangements
What does joint legal custody mean? What is joint physical custody?
In Georgia, child custody is divided into two categories: legal custody (decisions regarding the child) and physical custody (possession).
In most cases, parents are awarded joint legal custody, which means that the parents share in decision-making regarding the children and that the parents have equal rights to the child’s medical and educational records. There are four areas in which the decisions are required to be made jointly:
- religious upbringing of the child(ren)
- medical care of the child(ren),
- extracurricular activities, and
Joint physical custody is where the parents share equal or nearly equal parenting time. Joint physical is a parenting arrangement that can typically only be accomplished by agreement. Judges will assign one parent as the primary physical custodial and the other as secondary.
What does final decision-making authority mean in joint legal custody?
Even though a joint legal custodial arrangement requires that parents share decision-making, the courts will designate one parent, usually the one with primary physical custody, to have final decision-making authority if the parties cannot agree. Final decision-making authority does not allow for a parent to make a unilateral decision. Even though one parent does have the final say, that parent must still consult with the other parent before making any major decisions regarding the child(ren).
What is the difference between primary and sole custody?
Primary custody usually refers to the parent who has primary physical custody, i.e., the parent with the child spends the most time. In a joint legal custodial arrangement, sometimes a judge will delegate final decision-making authority to one parent, and that parent is usually the one with primary physical custody.
On the other hand, sole custody means that all the custodial rights-both legal and physical-are assigned to one parent and that the other parent has no rights. Having sole custody, however, does not alleviate the other parent of their obligations, such as child support.
If parents share custody, do anyone pay child support?
It depends on the income of the parties and needs of the child. Because child support is calculated based on income, the parent with the higher income may pay some support. Typically, the only time when there may be no support paid is in circumstances when the parties share equal parenting time and have nearly equal incomes.
Child Visitation Rights
What is child visitation?
Visitation, also known as secondary physical custody, is the common term used for the non-custodial parent’s parenting time.
Can a judge order supervised or no visitation?
Yes, a judge has discretion to order supervised visitation. It is not very common, but judges may order it in cases where it is shown that it is likely that one parent is a risk for harm to the minor child. This may mean supervision by a family member, a supervision agency, or law enforcement.
Can a parent refuse to allow visitation if child support is not paid?
No. Child support and visitation are two separate rights/obligations that are not connected to one another.
We’re Here to Help
No one should have to navigate divorce and custody alone. The Carr Law Group is a family-owned firm serving clients in and around Clarkesville, Gainesville, and Cleveland, Georgia. Our dedicated family law team, led by attorney-at-law Emily Ann Carr, has extensive practice in handling divorce, child custody, and child support issues. Contact Emily today to schedule an appointment or learn more about our family law services.