Divorce 101: How Is Child Custody Determined in Georgia?


When parents are separating or divorcing in Georgia, the ideal outcome is that they make their own custody arrangement, one that meets the needs of the entire family. If this can’t happen due to hostility between the parents, the court will have to step in.
Many fathers dread this prospect because they assume that mothers have an advantage when it comes to custody, especially if the children are younger. While this may have been the case at one time, Georgia courts today base their decision on the best interest of the child, not the gender of the parent.
What Are the Potential Custody Arrangements?
There are two types of custody in Georgia:

  • Legal: The parent with legal custody has the right to make major decisions about where the child lives and goes to school, what medical and dental care they receive, what religion they observe, and similar choices.
  • Physical: Physical custody indicates which child the parent lives with.

Ideally, the parents will share legal and physical custody, as this arrangement gives the children maximum contact with both parents. If joint legal and physical custody is not recommended for some reason (e.g., one parent travels frequently for work), the court could order joint legal custody while awarding sole physical custody to the parent who doesn’t travel. The goal is an arrangement that is in the best interest of the children.
The Best Interest of the Child Standard Explained
When deciding what outcome is in a child’s best interests, courts consider several factors that include but are not limited to:

  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child and provide a stable home environment
  • The physical and mental health of each parent
  • The quality of the emotional ties between the child and each parent
  • Each parent’s willingness to support a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • The relationship between the child and any siblings (includes step-siblings and adopted)
  • The extent to which each parent is involved in the child’s educational and extracurricular activities
  • Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence in the home
  • Whether either parent has a criminal record

When custody is an issue, all divorcing parents are legally required to present a parenting plan to the court, either separately or together. The judge will use these documents as additional insight into what arrangement is in the best interests of the child. If necessary, they may also appoint a custody evaluator to interview the family and make a custody recommendation.
What About the Child’s Preference?
Children age 11 or older are allowed to state a preference as to which parent they want to live with, although their choice does not dictate the outcome. If the child is 14 or older, however, their preference will be respected until the court has reason to believe that it is not in their best interests.
Consult a Georgia Child Custody Attorney
As a parent, you want to spend as much time as possible with your children. The family law team at Atlanta Family & Immigration Law advocates for fathers in particular, as many men worry about maternal bias turning them from dedicated dads into mere visitors every week. We won’t let you be shut out of your child’s life. To schedule a consultation with Attorney Judith Delus, call 678.601.5580 or contact us.