Area of Law:
When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, the divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions about the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, Georgia courts will intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child.
There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, or the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent.
In Georgia, courts may award child custody based on the best interests of the child. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, Georgia law recommends that family courts consider the following factors when awarding custody:
- The fitness, character, personality, and general health of the parents
- The wishes of the parents if they are determined to be fit
- The wishes of the child after taking into consideration the child's age and maturity
- The ability of the parents to communicate with each other
- The prior and continuing care the parents have given to the child
- Any history of domestic abuse
According to divorcesource.com, in cases where the child has reached the age of 14, the child has the right to select the parent with whom he or she wants to live. The child's selection is usually granted unless the court determines that the selected parent is determined not to be a fit and proper person to have custody of the child.
In all cases where the child is between the ages of 11 and 14, the court shall consider the desires and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody. If there is a history of domestic abuse in the family, a Georgia court will presume that awarding joint custody is not in the best interests of the child.
In Georgia, custody awards are not made with regard to the sex of the parent, but instead are based on the relationship that each parent has with the child. After the custody order is signed by the judge and filed with the court, both parents are bound by it. If a parent is denied court-ordered access to a child, he or she may bring the issue back before the court. The judge may decide to modify the visitation order, provide for makeup visitation for the time missed, or order counseling or mediation. For a full explanation of divorce and custody law in Georgia, go to lawyers.com.