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How is Georgia Child Custody Decided?

Unmarried and divorced parents must understand Georgia law

Georgia child cusody law makes it clear that, in deciding custody cases, there will be no assumptions in the law as to which parent is more deserving of custody: Both are on equal footing when they enter the courthouse. As in most states, a judge will base their custody decision on what is in the best interest for the child.

However, Georgia law also makes clear that custody agreements are favored, and indicates that Georgia courts should be a last resort. Judges can help by supplementing agreements as they see fit, but otherwise, a judge is required to explain why they decided differently than an agreement filed by the parents.

How to determine what is in the best interest of the child

If parents cannot resolve child custody arrangements on their own, the courts will decide what is in a child’s best interest by evaluating different factors, known as the best interest factors. In the State of Georgia, the law lists 17 factors a court may consider in evaluating what type of custody is in the child’s best interest, and a judge is not limited to just those factors. It’s a lengthy list compared to other states, and includes:

  • The love, affection, bonding and emotional ties existing between each parent and the minor child
  • The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide for the needs of the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent
  • The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child

Determining primary physical custody will decide where the child primarily lives, whereas determining legal custody will decide which parent has authority to make major decisions for the child. Both physical and legal custody can be awarded to one parent or joint legal custody and joint physical custody between both parents. However, decisions over the child’s parenting plan may be more significant than those custody determinations.

Parents must file a parenting plan with the court

Parents should understand before they file a custody or divorce case in court that the State of Georgia State requires they file a parenting plan. A parenting plan includes the day-to-day schedule and necessary decision-making for the child. The parenting plan is required to include at least the following:

  • Where and when asole custody child will be in sole custody of each parent’s physical care and home environment, designating where the child will spend each day of the year
  • How holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks and other special occasions will be spent with each parent
  • Transportation arrangements including how the child will be exchanged between the parents
  • Whether supervision will be needed for any parenting time
  • An allocation of decision-making authority to one or both parents with regard to the child’s education, health care, extracurricular activities and religious upbringing
  • Limitations of non-custodial parent to contact or receive information regarding the child

If a parent fails to file the required parenting plan with the court, the court may adopt the other parent’s plan. However, parents may decide to file a parenting plan together. To determine a fair parenting plan for your child, residents should first consult with a law firm or an experienced Georgia family law attorney. If you are facing custody issues, that attorney can provide legal advice to help resolve cases amicably or, if necessary, represent parents in arguing for their children’s best interests in court.

If you’d like more general information about this area of the law, see our custody and visitation law overview.

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