How do courts determine who will get custody of my child?
In Georgia, child custody is a complex matter where many factors are taken into consideration before a determination is made as to which parent will receive custody. Courts in Georgia use what is called the best interests of the child standard when determining child custody. No two child custody cases are the same and each case will have different deciding factors. Additionally, Georgia child custody law favors children having frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the children’s best interests.
What is the best interests of the child standard? What are some of the factors?
When determining the best interests of a child, judges may consider all the circumstances surrounding a case and base their decision on what will promote the best interests of the child, the child’s welfare and the child’s happiness.
Some examples of factors include the love and emotional ties the child has with each parent and other siblings the child lives with. Additionally, judges will also look to the capacity of each parent to provide for the child and meet the child’s needs. When considering the capacity of each parent to provide, judges may look into the parents mental health condition, substance abuse issues, and each parent’s home environment in order to determine which home is better suit for the child as a stable and nurturing environment.
Follow this link for a full list of factors Georgia judges may consider: Child Custody – Best Interests of the Child
What types of child custody are there?
In Georgia there are two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. Both types are distinct and different from one another. Courts in Georgia must decide how to structure both physical custody and legal custody.
What is physical custody?
Physical custody deals with the issue of with whom the child resides with. Usually one parent is designated as the primary physical custodian and the other parent receives secondary physical custody based on a designated visitation schedule.
Can I get joint physical custody of my child?
Joint physical custody is where parents share equal parenting time. Judges in Georgia don’t typically award joint physical custody, but instead favor one parent having primary physical custody over the other parent. However, joint physical custody may be accomplished through agreement of both parties and most judges will accept the agreement unless there are extraordinary circumstances involved.
What is legal custody?
Legal custody involves which parent can make major decisions related to the child’s upbringing such as education, religion, medical needs and extracurricular activities.
Can I get joint legal custody of my child?
Yes, joint legal custody is usually awarded by the courts here in Georgia. Joint legal custody means both parents share the responsibility to make decisions for the children and must consult with the other parent before making major decisions. Sole legal custody, which is not typical, means one parent has the right to make all decisions for the children.
I share joint legal custody of my child with my ex-spouse, but we can’t come to an agreement regarding my child’s education and religious upbringing. What happens then?
If the parents are unable to agree on a major decision, the law requires there be a “tiebreaker” parent who has the final word. Georgia law recognizes four major areas of child rearing that require a tie-breaker parent: educational decisions, medical decisions, religious upbringing decisions, and extra-curricular activity decisions. Both parents can agree as to which parent will serve as the tiebreaker or the court will designate a tiebreaker in the divorce or custody order. It is possible to split up the tie-breaker areas between the parents. For example, if one parent is the tie-breaker parent for education and medical decisions, the other parent can be the tie-breaker parent for religious decisions and extra-curricular activity decisions.
Can my child decide which parent they want to live with?
When your child turns 14 years old, your child can make an election to live with one parent over the other parent. This election is controlling unless the court finds such election to be adverse to the child’s best interests. Starting at age 11, the court will take the child’s election into consideration, however judges are not bound by the child’s election when the child is under 14 years old. The court will decide which parent the child will live with based on the best interests of the child standard.
My child is 14 and does not want to see their father even though their father has visitation rights. Does my child have to see their father?
No, unless a judge has already determined otherwise, your child typically does not have to visit with their father in this situation. This is assuming the father is the non-custodial parent in this situation.
When is child custody decided in a divorce?
In a divorce action custody is usually decided twice: once at a temporary hearing where the divorce process is just beginning and later again at a final hearing. At the temporary hearing, custody is established while the divorce is pending and ongoing. Both parties must abide by the temporary custody order until a final hearing/order is entered by the court.
What if we cannot agree on a child custody arrangement?
The parties can come to an agreement as to a custody arrangement. Most courts will accept the agreement unless major concerns are raised in the case. When the parties cannot agree the court will make a determination on custody using the best interests of the child standard. The court will first decide custody at a temporary hearing which will control while the divorce action is pending and again at a final hearing.
Can a judge order supervised visitation or no visitation?
Yes, a judge can order supervised visitation or no visitation depending on the circumstances of the case.
If I have custody, will I receive child support?
Yes, the custodial parent shall receive child support from the non-custodial parent. In Georgia, child support is computed using the Georgia Child Support Worksheet. The child support worksheet calculator takes into consideration factors such as income of both parents, which parent provides insurance for the child, etc.
Follow the link here to read more about child support: Child Support in Georgia
Do grandparents have custody and visitation rights?
No, grandparents do not have any custody or visitation rights and may not file a court action for visitation when the child is living with both parents. However, grandparents may have the right to file a court action for visitation rights when the child’s parents are separated and the child is living with the custodial parent. In that situation, the court may grant grandparents reasonable visitation rights if the court finds the health or welfare of the child would be harmed unless such visitation is granted and if the best interests of the child would be served.
Speak with a Child Custody Lawyer in Macon
Child custody is a complex matter. It is always best to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer if you have any questions regarding your own case. Call (478) 239-2780 if you wish to schedule a confidential consultation with Macon child custody lawyer Ashley M. Brodie.