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.
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.
Physical custody defines where the child lives. Once again, the judge can grant either joint or primary physical custody. Under joint custody, the child lives with both parents at different times; with primary physical custody, the child lives primarily with one parent.
Usually when one parent gets sole legal custody, the other parent will get visitation rights.
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.
But as for physical custody, many judges lean toward the child living permanently with one parent, with visitation rights for the non-custodial parent. And in cases where joint custody is granted, the division is usually not 50/50.
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.
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.
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.
When One Parent is Found To Be Unfit
The court will consider both parents’ behavior during the marriage when deciding what is in the best interests of the child.
There are circumstances where one spouse – or both – are 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.
When the Child Has a Say
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.
When can parents get 50/50 joint custody?
In general, 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 isn’t always how custody 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.
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.
They should also live in close proximity, to keep the child’s school routine running smoothly.
Not all divorcing couples meet those requirements, especially at the time of divorce.
However, relationships 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.
Work With 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) 479-1500 for a free, 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.