Child custody is one of the most challenging and contentious issues during a divorce action. Even if the parents are largely in agreement, a child custody case can become a bitter battle. Our Lawrenceville child custody lawyers work with you to find amicable solutions that protect and benefit you and your children whenever possible. 

We understand you have many questions about child custody cases in Georgia. Our lawyers answer frequently asked questions in this Georgia child custody guide.

What Is Child Custody in Georgia?

Child custody refers to the legal right to make decisions for your child. It also refers to where the child lives and who cares for their physical needs. 

When parents are married, they share custody. Unmarried parents could also share custody if the father’s name is on the birth certificate or if there is a court order recognizing the parent’s rights of the father. 

A parent has legal custody when they have the authority to make decisions for their child. Decisions include medical treatment, educational choices, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. 

Parents often share legal custody. However, a judge could grant sole legal custody to one parent if they prove that the other parent is unfit or a danger to the child. If one parent has sole legal custody, they do not need to get input or consult the other when making decisions for the child.

Physical custody refers to caring for the child’s daily needs and where the child resides. Parents may share physical custody, but the child generally resides primarily with one party for stability and continuity. We refer to that parent as the custodial parent. 

How Do Georgia Judges Decide Disputed Child Custody Cases in Lawrenceville?

Regardless of the other factors in the case and the parents’ preferences, the primary concern is what is in the child’s best interests. Judges must consider the evidence presented to the court and the factors listed in Georgia Code §19-9-3 when determining the type of custody arrangement that benefits the child.

When a child turns 14 years old, they can select which parent they want to live with as their custodial parent. However, the court can deny the request if the judge finds the parent is unfit or living with the parent full-time would not be in the child’s best interest.

Do Mothers Receive Preference in Child Custody Cases in Georgia?

Like many states, Georgia judges often follow the common law principle of the “tender years” doctrine. The law presumed that young children should be with their mothers unless the court found the mother unfit.

Georgia has long abolished the use of the tender years doctrine. No preference is given to mothers or fathers in a child custody case. The parents begin on equal footing with the court, assuming it is in the child’s best interest to continue a close relationship with both parents and for the parents to remain active participants in their children’s lives.

If evidence is introduced that a parent is unfit or should otherwise not have custody, the judge can grant sole physical and legal custody to the other parent.

How Is Child Support Decided When Parents Share Custody 50-50 in Georgia?

Parents have a legal obligation to support their children financially. The obligation does not terminate when the parents separate or divorce. 

Therefore, the courts determine child support obligations and order a parent to pay child support. Usually, the parent with the larger income pays the support payments, but not always. 

A parent with a higher income could receive support payments because they are the custodial parent. The number of nights the child spends with each parent is a factor in the child support guidelines

When parents share physical custody, the child usually has one residence that is the primary residence. Therefore, it is likely that the child will spend more time with the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent will often pay child support to the custodial parent even if they split child custody 50-50.

Can Georgia Child Custody Orders Be Modified by the Court?

The courts acknowledge that circumstances that require the court to modify an existing child custody order might change. For example, the custodial parent gets a new job that requires them to work late at night. The other parent might assume the role of the custodial parent for a while. 

Other reasons to modify child custody include:

  • The child turns 14 and wants to live with the other parent
  • A child and/or parent has a long-term change in their schedules
  • A parent is moving a substantial distance from their current home
  • A parent becomes ill and needs the other parent to take on a more significant role as a caregiver for the children
  • Evidence has surfaced that a parent is unfit

Agreements to change custody terms are not enforceable, even if they are in writing and signed by each parent. You must take the step to file a petition with the court to request a modified child custody order. 

The judge might grant an emergency petition for child custody if the child is in immediate threat of harm or physical violence. In other situations, the court schedules a hearing for both parents to present evidence supporting their position. The judge will use the same factors used in the original child custody case to decide what is now best for the children. 

Contact an Experienced Georgia Child Custody Lawyer for More Information

Do you need help with a child custody matter in the State of Georgia? Consider reaching out to an experienced divorce lawyer near you. An attorney can guide you through the process and make sure your interests are adequately represented at all stages.

Contact the Divorce Lawyers at Crystal Wright Law To Get Legal Assistance Today

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our divorce & family law firm at (404) 594-2143 or reach out to Crystal Wright Law online by visiting our contact us page.
You can also visit our law firm at 440 S. Perry Street Suite 105, Lawrenceville, GA 30046.