Generally, the custodial parent is the parent who lives with the child and has physical custody of the child. In other words, the parent is the child’s primary caregiver. Noncustodial parents typically have visitation and timesharing arrangements with the child.

In Georgia, parents can share custody of a child or have sole custody. When the parents have joint custody, they have an equal right to make decisions for their child. However, one parent is typically the custodial parent because the child lives primarily with that parent.

Physical Custody and Custodial Parents 

Physical custody refers to where the child primarily resides. Physical custody gives the parent the right to make decisions about where the child lives, the rules of the home, and other matters related to their physical surroundings. 

There are cases in which a child stays with one parent for a few nights a week and stays with the other parent for the remainder of the week. In addition, there could be situations in which a child goes back and forth every other week between homes. 

However, most parents realize that it is in the best interest of the child to have a primary residence for stability, convenience, and comfort.

Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions that impact your child. Legal custody allows a parent to make decisions about the child’s religious upbringing, medical treatment, education, and extracurricular activities. Joint legal custody gives each parent a say in these decisions.

However, there could be cases where a custodial parent has sole legal custody. In those cases, only that parent has the legal right to make decisions for the child. The other parent does not have any say in those decisions.

Joint vs. Sole Custody in Georgia

Georgia courts recognize that it is generally in the child’s best interest to have both parents active in their child’s life. Children benefit from close relationships with both parents unless the parent is unfit or there is abuse involved. 

Therefore, judges tend to grant joint custody to parents absent a reason to exclude a parent from having physical or legal custody of a child. Even so, there is still typically a primary custodial parent. Parents who can work together to develop a parenting plan often find that the situation works best for their family, instead of allowing a judge to make those decisions for them.

When a judge must make child custody decisions because of a custody dispute, Georgia law requires that the judge use specific criteria to determine the best interest of the child. According to O.C.G.A. §15-11-26, the court shall consider all of the factors affecting the best interest of the child, including:

  • The welfare and physical safety of the child, including needs such as health, food, shelter, and clothing;
  • The affection, emotional ties, bonding, and love between the child and each parent or person available to care for the child;
  • The bonding, love, and emotional ties between the child and siblings, including stepsiblings and half-siblings and where those siblings reside;
  • The child’s need for continuity of relationships, stability, and permanence;
  • The child’s sense of security, attachments, continuity of affection, and familiarity;
  • Each parent’s disposition and capacity to provide care, guidance, affection, and love for the child and continue the child’s rearing and education;
  • Each parent’s home environment considering the child’s safety and nurturance instead of material or superficial factors;
  • The stability of the family and the absence or presence of support systems to benefit the child;
  • The physical and mental health of all individuals involved in the custody case;
  • The child’s special needs related to education or health;
  • The school, home, and community record for the child;
  • The child’s background and ties, including church, community, friends, school, cultural, familial, and religious;
  • The least disruptive placement alternative;
  • The family and child’s unique situation and circumstances;
  • The risks of entering and being in substitute care;
  • The preferences of the persons available to care for the child;
  • The child’s wishes and long-term goals;
  • Evidence of substance abuse, family violence, sexual abuse, criminal history, physical or mental abuse; and,
  • Recommendations by a court-appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem.

The judge may also consider any other relevant factors necessary to make a custody decision in the child’s best interest. That could include granting supervised visitation or sole custody without visitation. 

Parents who are separating, divorcing, or otherwise not living with their child’s other parent should always seek legal advice about custody matters before going to court. A child custody lawyer helps parents determine their best options for resolving custody disputes in their child’s best interest. 

Contact the Child Custody 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.