The Best Interests of a Child

When a Judge decides who should receive custody of a child, ultimately, the judge must decide, “What is in the child’s best interests?” Georgia law sets forth several factors the Judge may consider in making that decision. The factors are not all inclusive-the judge may consider issues or items not specified. Along the same line, the list is also not mandatory-the judge is not required to consider each factor. The factors are listed in no particular order. It is up to the judge to decide if one factor is more important than the others.

At Speights Law, early in a case we give our clients a copy of these factors. Whether it is a divorce case where parents are arguing over custody for the first time or a modification case where parents are changing a parenting plan, we think the list is helpful because it gives the client an idea of what the court is looking for. It is important to start building this evidence early in your case. A parent who can present evidence to the court that these factors weigh more in his or her favor will be in a better position to argue, “Judge, it is in my child’s best interests that he live with me.”

O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3

In determining the best interests of the child, the judge may consider any relevant factor including, but not limited to:

  • (A) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
  • (B) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and step siblings and the residence of such other children;
  • (C) The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child;
  • (D) Each parent’s knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child’s needs;
  • (E) The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent;
  • (F) The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
  • (G) The importance of continuity in the child’s life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
  • (H) The stability of the family unit of each of the parents and the presence or absence of each parent’s support systems within the community to benefit the child;
  • (I) The mental and physical health of each parent;
  • (J) Each parent’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the child’s educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
  • (K) Each parent’s employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
  • (L) The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
  • (M) Each parent’s past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
  • (N) The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child;
  • (O) Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
  • (P) Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
  • (Q) Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.