If you are getting divorced and have minor children, part of the divorce process will involve determining who those children live with. While you and your spouse have the option of working out a custody arrangement, disputes over who receives custody of the children can arise, and they can get ugly very quickly. If you are facing a custody dispute, our experienced family law attorneys can help ensure you get the custody arrangement that is in the best interests of your children.Who Gets Child Custody in Georgia?
In cases where child custody is an issue, divorcing parents are required to submit a parenting plan to the court. This plan outlines the needs of the child and how their time should be divided between their parents. It also determines how much decision-making authority each parent receives and how much access to the child they are allowed to have. Judges will take this parenting plan into account when determining what custody arrangement would be in the best interests of the child. There will then typically be a judicial hearing to determine how custody will be awarded.
There are no boundaries when it comes to a judge determining what sort of custodial arrangement is in a child's best interest. Numerous factors may be taken into account, including each parents' ability to care and provide for the child, each parents' emotional ties to the child, a history of substance abuse, child abuse or neglect, or criminal convictions in either parents' background, and the stability of each parent's situation. Ultimately, it's up to a judge to decide what factors are relevant when determining custody arrangements, which is why you need a family lawyer on your side.
Under Georgia law, children 11 and older are allowed to state a preference for which parent they wish to live with, although the judge does not have to honor this decision. Children 14 and older are allowed to choose which of their parents they choose to live with. The court will honor this choice, unless the judge determines that the child's choice is not in their best interests.Types of Child Custody in Georgia
Georgia recognizes both physical and legal custody of children. Legal custody gives a parent or guardian the right to make major life decisions for their child, while physical custody determines which parent or guardian that the child will live with.
Both of these types of custody can be joint custody (both parents are involved) or sole custody (only one parent is involved), and they are not mutually exclusive. You can have sole physical custody of a child, meaning that you are the only parent they live with full-time, but share joint legal custody with your former spouse, giving you both the legal authority to make important decisions for the child.
Join legal custody is the norm in Georgia, although the courts will typically give one parent the final say in any decision-making, in the event that the parents are unable to come to an agreement. Joint physical custody, where the parents typically share equal or near-equal parenting time, is more uncommon in Georgia, often due to the logistics involved, but it is steadily growing more popular.
It is also unusual for one parent to have sole legal and physical custody over a child. However, sole custody may be awarded in cases where the non-custodial parent may be a danger to the child or was not actively involved in their children's lives. Note that one parent having sole legal and physical custody does not relieve the non-custodial parent of their obligation to pay child support.Custody Without Divorce
When a child's parents are unmarried, the mother is given full legal custody over the child by default unless the father takes legal action. This remains true even if the parents had been living together for some time. It is difficult for an unwed father to win custody, unless the mother is found by the court to be an unfit parent, but it is possible for him to secure visitation rights and/or secure a custody arrangement by first establishing paternity and then filing a legitimation action in court.
Securing custodial rights as an unwed father is difficult, but it is not impossible. However, it definitely is not a fight that you want to take on alone. Contact our experienced family lawyers today and see how we can help protect your rights as a father.