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5 things to know about child custody in Georgia

Child custody issues can be dicey - they're emotional, fraught with tension and legally complex. From sole custody to joint custody, and legal custody to physical custody, the stakes are high and the answers (from a legal standpoint) aren't always clear.

Before becoming embroiled in a child custody dispute, make sure you contact a qualified family law attorney and read through these five things to help set your expectations.

1. Elements of a parenting plan

Before the first child custody hearing, you should have a general parenting plan in place for the judge's consideration. The plan, which should include input from both parents, should address practical details such as:

  • Who the child will be with on each day of the year, including holidays and vacations
  • How the child will be transported between parents and where they will be dropped off
  • Whether the parent who doesn't have the child may contact the child when it's the other parent's time with the child

2. Understanding "best interests"

Child custody is determined under a legal standard known as "the best interests of the child." During a custody hearing, the judge will consider your child's health and education, their home, school and community record, as well as the love, bonding, affection and emotional ties between the parents and child.

3. The different types of custody

Sole vs. joint. Legal vs. physical. What's the difference between the different types of custody? For starters, there is not a presumption in favor of one form of custody or one parent over the other.

In a nutshell, legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions on the child's behalf (health care, educational, religious, etc.); physical custody is about which parent the child lives with.

The idea of sole and joint custody can apply to both legal and physical custody. With joint physical custody, both parents have the right to equal time with the child; with sole physical custody, the child lives primarily with one parent while the other has visitation rights (or no visitation, depending on the circumstances). With joint legal custody, both parents share in making major decisions for the child; with sole legal custody, one parent has final decision-making rights.

4. Can older children be involved in the decision?

In Georgia, once a child turns 14, they are legally allowed to make their own decision as to which parent they want to live with. This custody election can be changed every two years, at the request of the child, and a judge may reject the child's custody election if they believe the selection is not in their best interests.

5. Custody modifications

Once a judge has awarded custody, the decision is final unless one parent is able to prove there has been a material change of condition or circumstance. Parental visitation rights, however, can be reviewed and modified by a judge every two years.

Armed with the right information, you can make it through a difficult custody battle. Share this information with someone in need - it just might help them, and their children, move forward to a happier place.

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