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How Do Georgia Courts Determine Child Custody?

When a couple reaches the decision to end a marriage the determination of child custody is often the most crucial. Georgia defines custody as sole, joint, joint legal and joint physical. Typically, a parent who is awarded sole custody of a child will have the rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child’s education, health care, and activities. Joint legal custody refers to both parents having equal rights for major decisions as it relates to the child. The Court will also have latitude to grant one parent sole power to make certain decisions while leaving the remaining decisions for both parents. Joint physical custody refers to the actual amount of time each parent is allowed to spend with the child. Custody is shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of substantially equal time and contact with both parents.

In Georgia, an award of child custody is within the trial Court’s discretion. How does the trial Court make this determination? The standard used is “what is in the minor child’s best interest.” The custody order can come from an agreement by both parents or by way of a hotly contested hearing. Regardless, the Court will consider factors such as the age of the children, the relationship of the parents, stability of the children, living arrangements of the parents and parenting styles. Often times the Court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to assist with the decision. Essentially the role of the Guardian ad Litem is to represent the interest of the minor child and make an independent recommendation to the Court regarding which parent should have custody or whether the custody arrangement agreed to by the parents is in the child’s best interest.

The decisions made by parents and most importantly, the Court, can have a lasting effect on the child. While life events and circumstances can cause this issue to be revisited once an order is in place, it is important to fight to preserve the child’s interest at the earliest stage in the process, prior to the Court’s determination. If you have any questions regarding child custody or any other family law related matter contact a Douglasville Divorce Lawyer today for a free consultation.