This article was updated in April 2021.
Can I Get Joint 50/50 Custody of my Child in Georgia?
What You Need to Know about Child Custody, 50/50 Joint Custody Sharing and the Legal Process
One question we’re frequently asked by our divorcing clients is whether the client can get joint physical custody with their child, on an exact 50/50 split.
While it’s possible for some divorcing couples, the answer depends on your situation, your relationship with your ex-spouse, and other factors.
Here’s an overview of how child custody is decided in Georgia, the issues that influence the judge’s decision, and the circumstances under which a 50/50 joint custody arrangement is most likely.
The Basics of Child Custody in Georgia
When deciding child custody cases, judges in Georgia will put the best interests of the child first. The decision is gender-neutral; mothers do not get preferential treatment. That means fathers have an equally good chance of being awarded child custody, as long as it’s demonstrably in the child’s best interest.
There are two types of custody in Georgia: legal and physical.
Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions regarding the child’s life, including education, healthcare, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing, and more.
A judge in Georgia can grant either joint or sole legal custody. Joint legal custody means both parents have the right to make these decisions; sole legal custody means only one parent has that right.
Georgia law considers it ideal for parents to share legal custody of a child as close to equally as possible, so they both get to make important decisions about the child’s life and upbringing.
Physical custody defines where the child will live. A judge may choose to grant primary physical custody to one parent, where the child lives with one parent most of the time or joint custody, where time is split more evenly between parents.
Usually when one parent gets primary custody, the other parent will get visitation rights.
In cases where joint custody is awarded, the division of time is not always a clean 50/50. That’s because stability and schooling interests are sometimes better served by having the child spend more time in one place, or by staggered schedules built around school, extracurricular and work considerations.
Increasingly, divorcing parents do want equal time with their kids, despite what seems to be a judicial preference for primary custody arrangements.
So how can you increase your chances of getting 50/50 joint custody?
When Can Parents Get 50/50 Joint Custody in Georgia?
As mentioned above, the preference of the court in Georgia is to grant equal legal custody to both parents, while giving the child the stability of a single home for a majority of the time. That doesn’t have to be how your custody case is decided, however.
Judges in Georgia have a great deal of discretion when it comes to awarding custody and much of it comes down to the relationship between the divorcing parents.
Six Factors That May Affect Your Chances of Getting 50/50 Physical Custody Arrangement
- How well you and your ex cooperate and get along.
In our experience, judges in Cherokee County are less willing to order 50/50 joint custody if the divorce was contentious.
That’s because people who co-parent closely must get along well most of the time, agree on the child’s daily routine and major life and legal decisions, and be able to negotiate disagreements with minimal upheaval.
- Proximity of each of the homes.
Custody-sharing parents need to live in somewhat close proximity, to keep the child’s school routine running smoothly and eliminate the stress of long travel times.
- Time and ability to meet parental obligations.
You must be able to get your child to appointments and extracurricular activities regularly, too, so having a consistent or flexible work schedule may figure into the decision. You will also want to demonstrate that you have the time and commitment to be actively involved in parenting your child.
- The age and unique needs of the child.
Older children may adapt more easily to moving from one parental home to another, while young children and those with particular emotional needs or physical disabilities may be better served by a primary custody arrangement. The judge deciding your case will look closely at factors like these when deciding custodial arrangements.
- The child’s wishes.
In Georgia, a child can choose which parent to live with when they turn 14, and judges will generally abide by this choice as long as the choice is in the child’s best interests.
Judges also have the discretion to take the preferences of a child aged 11-13 under consideration, but other factors, such as the child’s educational needs, will come first.
- Whether both parents are in favor of a 50/50 agreement.
It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if one parent objects to a 50/50 joint custody arrangement, but it definitely helps if you and your spouse are on the same page. Try to talk things out and come up with a parenting plan that both of you can live with before heading into court.
Your Parenting Plan
At the start of the decision-making process, divorcing couples draw up a parenting plan that outlines how they prefer to split legal decision-making and time-sharing for their children.
The plan outlines how you intend to keep the parent-child relationship intact and put the child’s best interests first. Points to be addressed include:
- Where the child will live.
- How and where the child will spend special occasions such as holidays, birthdays, and school breaks.
- Your plan to transport the child to and from each parent’s house, how you plan to exchange the child, and who pays for transportation costs.
- Whether visitation will be supervised, and who will supervise.
- How you plan to divide decision-making and resolve disagreements regarding the child’s education, healthcare, religious involvement, and other upbringing issues.
- Specifics regarding the non-custodial parent’s right to contact the child and have access to their records and information.
Having a well thought out plan for how your child will split time between homes, with clear scheduling objectives and logistical considerations, will strengthen your case for a 50/50 physical custody agreement.
You’ll need to show that your plan will serve the best interests of the child and that you’re capable of upholding the obligations of your plan.
Parenting plans have very specific requirements to be considered valid by the courts, and having an attorney’s help in drawing one up can be invaluable.
Factors That May Hurt Your Chances for a 50/50 Joint Custody Arrangement
When You and Your Spouse Disagree
In the ideal divorce, both parents agree about all the specifics of child custody. But the ideal divorce is vanishingly rare.
If you and your spouse can’t agree on custody arrangements, or your relationship is too volatile to make an agreement possible, there are several steps the court may take, including appointing a guardian ad litem or ordering a custody evaluation.
Judges are often reluctant to award equal custody to parents who are sharply in disagreement or exhibit obvious animosity. Try to resolve differences through mediation or counseling, if possible.
The court will consider both parents’ behavior during the marriage when deciding what is in the best interests of the child. Specifically, factors that affect how well each parent will be able to care for the child and create a healthy environment will weigh heavily.
There may be circumstances where one spouse is found to be unfit to parent, usually because of abuse, neglect, or addiction issues.
If warranted, courts can order an investigation into charges of abuse or neglect on the part of one or both parents. In instances where both parents are found to be unfit, a third party, such as a grandparent or close relative may be assigned custody.
FAQS About Joint 50/50 Custody in Georgia
- Is It Hard for a Father to Win Joint Custody?
The Georgia courts do not give preference to mothers when deciding custody issues, so fathers should not be at any disadvantage when seeking 50/50 custody. The main factors influencing the decision will be the best interest of the child and the ability of the parents to work together and carry out any joint custody agreement.
- Does Joint Custody Affect Child Support? Will I Pay Less Than a Non-Custodial Parent?
Child support in Georgia is calculated based on a formula that takes into account the income of both parents and necessary expenses for the child. There are several adjustments the court can choose to apply to these, and one of these is known as the parenting time deviation.
If you are caring for the child for more time than average, either because of joint custody or increased visitation, your child support responsibility may be reconfigured at the discretion of the courts. Each situation will be evaluated based on the best interests of the child, however, and joint custody does not always equal lower child support payments.
- How Does Joint Custody Scheduling Work?
Most people have heard of joint custody situations where the child spends one week with one parent and the next with the other, but there are many other arrangements that work well for both children and parents.
A 2-2-3 schedule gives the child two nights with each parent and then three nights with one, with parents taking turns each week on the three-night weekend. There are also week on week off schedules where the child spends seven days with one parent, and the parents exchange custody at the beginning or end of a weekend.
Consider your child’s needs and temperament as well as your own obligations when figuring out the right custody schedule for everyone.
- I Didn’t Get Joint Custody After Our Divorce. Can I Get it Now?
Relationships change, circumstances change and custody arrangements can change with them. If you weren’t initially granted a joint custody arrangement, it’s possible that you and your spouse can renegotiate it after some time has passed, strong feelings have died down, and you have a good track record of cooperation in parenting your children.
Situations like an improved work schedule, closer proximity and an ability to work with your ex may make a court look favorably on a joint custody arrangement. Also, as young children get older, a judge may find that joint custody is desirable where previously it was not. A legal professional can help advise you on your options.
Still Have Questions? Talk to An Experienced Divorce Lawyer in Cherokee County
If you’re currently navigating divorce, don’t wait to talk to a lawyer. The terms you set for your divorce could shape your life – and your child’s life – for many years to come
At Speights Law, we have an outstanding record of success in helping our clients avoid pitfalls and achieve the best possible outcome. We can do the same for you – in mediation or in court.
Call us at (770) 796-4029 for a confidential consultation today.
Amanda Speights is a co-founder and lead family law attorney at Speights Law, PC in Cherokee County. She is an experienced family law lawyer who handles an assortment of domestic cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, appeals and other types of litigation in the state of Georgia. To contact Amanda, please visit our contact page.