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Child Custody

Child CustodyWhen referring to a child, custody means the person who makes decisions for the child and with whom the child resides. When parents separate, decisions must be made about where the child will reside and how major, non-emergency decisions (such as where the child will attend school, his religious upbringing, etc.) will be made. In a perfect world, the parents will agree upon custody of their child. However, if they disagree, the court must decide.

​The court may award sole custody to one parent or the other parent. This is more likely to happen in cases where the parents disagree frequently and strongly. The parent with sole custody makes all the major, non-emergency decisions for the child and the child resides with that parent. The other parent usually parenting time (visitation in some states) with the child and will still make minor decisions, such as bedtimes when the child is with him or her, and emergency medical decisions, such as when to call 911 if an emergency arises when the child is with him. In cases of abuse or neglect, however, the other parent may have supervised visitation or no visitation.

In other cases, the court may award joint custody. Usually, this means joint legal custody. Joint legal custody means that the parents will make the major, non-emergency decisions jointly. They will consult with one another and, hopefully, agree about the child’s education, medical care, religion and extracurricular activities.

If they don’t agree, however, there is usually a plan spelling out how the final decision will be made (e.g., one parent will have final decision-making authority if the parents cannot reach an agreement). In most cases, a child who is in the joint legal custody of her parents, will typically reside with one parents most of the time. In Georgia, that parent is said to have primary physical custody of the child. Again, the other parent will have parenting time with the child.

In a few cases, usually when parents are able to cooperate with one another and resolve disagreements in a civil manner, they may have joint physical custody. In some states this is referred to as shared physical custody. This means that the child lives with both parents nearly equally. (Thus, if you want the child to reside nearly equally with each parent, you must find away to get alone with the other parent and resolve any disagreements without bitter arguments. Of course, that is only one of several reasons it is better to get along with your child’s other parent.)

How Is Custody Determined Under Georgia Law?

CustodyGeorgia law permits a considerable amount of liberty for a judge when determining child custody. There are several commonly used criteria, although a judge can consider any other factor at their discretion, so long as they deem it relevant to the case. Among the common criteria include:

  • The stability of each party;
    • If one party frequently moves or has demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to hold down a job and the other party hasn’t, the party that has demonstrated stability and maintained regular employment will understandably be looked on more favorably.
  • The concern a party visibly demonstrates toward the well-being of the child;
    • If one parent has neglected something like the child’s education, that would work against them.
  • The type of relationship the child shares with the parent;
    • If a parent has not spent much time with the child most of their life and suddenly changes their behavior upon the divorce being filed, they would be less likely to get custody than the parent who has been there all along, seen the child regularly, and knows the child’s needs.

It should be noted that in Georgia if you are declared the father in a child support case but are not married to the mother, you are not the legal father. The only exception is if you married the mother and recognized the child as your child.

If you did not marry the mother, then the child is considered legally illegitimate. You have to legitimize the child in order to have legal rights.

Is There An Age Where The Child Has Input On Who They Will Live With?

In Georgia, children undergoing their parents’ divorce can give input on who they end up living with starting around age 12. Judges listen to children’s opinions between 12 to 14 years of age but do not have to follow them.

Judges follow what a child 14 or older voices unless they find that it is against the child’s best interest to do so. For example, if the child wants to go live with a parent who does drugs, the judge would not likely grant that request. Message Nancy on our Facebook Page or email her at nancyburnett@live.com.

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