Custody in Georgia is broken into two separate parts. Legal custody determines who can make decisions on behalf of the children and who has access to the children’s records (e.g. medical, educational, and other records). Typically, parents will share joint legal custody of children, meaning they both have the right to make decisions and access records. Less often, sole legal custody is given to one parent. Physical custody represents which parent actually has the children in their care. In most cases, one parent has primary physical custody, meaning they have the children more than 50% of the time, while the other parent has parenting time less than 50% of the time. For some families, joint physical custody – meaning each parent has the children 50% of the time – is the best option.
Many divorcing couples agree on the best custody arrangement for their family; however, when couples cannot agree, the decision may ultimately be made by a judge. It is important to remember that, under Georgia law, neither mothers, nor fathers are given preference in custody proceedings. The judge must determine custody based on the “best interests of the child.” This seems like a broad term, but there are numerous factors the judge will consider, including:
- The relationship between the child and each parent;
- The ability of each parent to give the child love, affection, guidance, and basic necessities (food, clothing, etc.);
- The emotional, mental, and financial stability of each parent;
- Each parent’s involvement in the child’s life before the divorce;
- The ability of each parent to care for the child, taking into account their work/travel schedules; and
- Whether either parent has a history of child abuse or substance abuse.
No factor is more or less important than the others. A judge will consider these factors, along with many others, and make the decision that they believe is in the child’s best interests.