Georgia’s law governing child custody is unique when compared to other states. Specifically, Georgia allows a child who has reached the age of 14 to choose the parent they wish to live with. If the child has indicated a preference for one parent, their selection will be controlling and cannot be contested. The only situation where that decision will not stand is where the parent is deemed unfit for custody.
If the child has not selected a parent, or if they are younger than 14 years old, the court will utilize the "best interests" doctrine. This means they will consider several factors, all of which take into consideration the best interests of the child.
As mentioned above, any decision rendered by the court will seek to meet the best interests of the child. Some factors a court will use in reaching that decision include:
- The child such as age, gender, educational level, and any special mental or physical needs
- The child’s emotional attachment to the parent
- The parent’s ability to provide food, clothing, and other necessities
- The ability of either parent to facilitate and encourage continued contact between the child and the non-custodial parent
- Any instances of abuse or domestic violence
- Any history of substance abuse
- Any other information regarding each parent and their ability to contribute to the child’s well-being and happiness
Georgia law requires each parent to submit a parenting plan. These plans may be either joint or separate, but the plan needs to lay out in detail how the child’s needs and best interests will be met. The plan will also allocate the decision making ability between the parents. The judge will take this into consideration when making the custody decision.
Moreover, as an alternative to granting one parent full custody, a Georgia court may appoint different types of custody, including any combination of joint legal and joint physical custody. Moreover, if a custodial parent intends to relocate out of Georgia with the child, the court will take that into consideration. That parent will also required to provide a certain number of day’s notice to the other parent and the court before leaving.
Decisions regarding child custody could have long lasting consequences for all parties, including the child. Thus, it is essential to obtain the expert advice of a Georgia lawyer regarding these matters. Child custody law can be complex, especially if the either of the parents move out-of-state. The services of a family law lawyer can be indispensable in ensuring the child’s best interests are met.