Child Custody Laws in Georgia

Family courts in Georgia will primarily consider the best interest of the child when making custody decisions. Whatever the judge decides is best for the child will overrule the preference of either parent. The state considers each custody case individually, and there are many factors that the judge will look into before determining how to grant custody. If you will be seeking child custody, prepare yourself for the experience in family court by familiarizing yourself with Georgia’s child custody laws.


When researching child custody, you will see the phrase “best interests of the child” appearing frequently, but that term can seem intimidatingly vague to parents about to enter a custody case. How does the judge determine what is in a child’s best interests? If the child is old enough, their own opinion will be taken into consideration. Children over 14 can make a “custody election” and choose which parent they’d prefer to live with (though the judge may overrule it), and children between 11 and 14 will have their wishes taken into account.


The court will also be looking to understand the relationship the child currently has with their parents and any siblings, and how any custody arrangement could impact that. The safety of the home environment and each parents’ ability to provide financially are important considerations, as is the emotional/physical health of the parents. The judge will consider how involved each parent currently is in the child’s everyday life and social/extracurricular activities, how much flexibility they would have to care for the child, and how willing they are to cooperate with the other parent. Obviously, any criminal activities or evidence of domestic abuse will be taken very seriously by the court.


Once the judge feels they have a solid understanding of the situation in the family, they will rule on custody. There are two types of custody in Georgia: legal custody and physical custody. A parent who has legal custody has the legal authority to make decisions regarding the child’s life, such as where they go to school, when medical treatment is necessary, and what kind of religious upbringing they receive. The judge may award sole legal custody to one parent, though more commonly parents will share joint legal custody.

Physical custody is sometimes also referred to as “residential custody” since it refers to where the child resides the majority of the time. In many cases, one parent receives sole physical custody while the other has generous visitation rights. Usually, a non-custodial parent is granted unsupervised visitation rights, though in some cases a judge may require supervised visitation. Another responsible adult (often a relative or family friend) must be present for the duration of a supervised visit. Joint physical custody is sometimes called “shared custody” or “dual residence.” The child’s time is divided up mostly equally between both homes. It is important to note that legal custody and physical custody are awarded independently. One parent may have sole physical custody while still having joint legal custody.


The state of Georgia also requires parents to submit a parenting plan as part of custody arrangements. The creation of a parenting plan is an important step for two parents in shaping the future reality of the family. The plan should recognize that it’s in the best interests of the child for them to maintain a close relationship with both parents and for their life to be interrupted as little as possible. Both parents should also acknowledge in the plan that the parent with primary physical custody will need to make day-to-day decisions regarding the child.

In the parenting plan, the parents will also agree on how holidays, birthdays, vacations, and other special events will be handled. It should outline how major decisions about the child’s education, religious upbringing, etc. will be made – does one parent have primary decision-making power, or will these decisions be mutual? If the parents are sharing decision-making duties, the plan should also detail how disagreements will be settled. When parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, the judge may choose the proposed plan that they deem is in the best interests of the child.


Because of the seriousness of the situation and the complexity of these laws, it is important to have the guidance of a family law attorney with experience in determining child custody in Cumming, Georgia. You will want an experienced family advocate working on behalf of you and your family.