One question we hear a lot at Speights Law is what the chances of a father winning a joint custody agreement in Georgia are.
Unlike in the past, when a sole custody agreement with visitation rights for the non-custodial parent was the norm, many parents today want and expect a more even custody split.
Everything You Need to Know About 50/50 Joint Custody Arrangements and Fathers’ Rights in a Divorce
Although in the past, the courts have been biased against awarding equal time to both parents, today, more parents are being awarded joint custody than ever.
So, what does this mean for divorcing fathers who want to play a prominent role in the upbringing of their children?
To get to the heart of the matter, let’s first break down a few misconceptions about child custody for fathers and look at how Georgia laws influence custody cases.
Do Georgia Custody Laws Favor the Mother?
Short answer: No.
Most people have heard that courts prefer to give custody to mothers unless there is a very good reason not to do so.
However, Georgia law stipulates that the custody decision should not be preferential toward the mother.
That means that Georgia fathers have an equally good chance of being awarded child custody, as long as it is demonstrably in the child’s best interest.
It also means that fathers petitioning for joint custody and equal time with their kids have a better chance of getting the arrangement they want.
How Do Judges Decide Child Custody Cases?
Since the default is no longer sole custody with visitation or a marked preference for the mother over the father, how do judges decide who gets child custody?
Speaking broadly, Georgia judges must determine a custody arrangement that benefits the child above all else.
More specifically, in order to decide on the best custody arrangement for the child, the judge must consider a variety of factors, as stipulated by Georgia Code O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3.
These factors include things like:
- the child’s bonds with other family members
- the fitness of each parent
- parental ability to provide for and care for the child
- the stability of the home environment
- any special needs the child may have
The child’s age may play a role in the decision, too, with younger children sometimes requiring more continuity that may not be well-served by a 50/50 joint custody arrangement.
Georgia law is also unusual in that it allows children 14 and older to have a say in the custody arrangement—the child may tell the judge which parent he or she prefers to live with.
Is Equal Custody Better or Worse for Children?
Despite past concerns that joint custody might be confusing or disruptive for kids, many experts now believe that it generally produces better outcomes for children.
One notable study, reported on by the American Psychological Association, found that children in equal custody situations “had fewer behavioral and emotional problems, higher self-esteem and better family relationships and school performance compared with those in sole-custody situations.”
There are, of course, exceptions to this, such as when one parent is unfit, or when a shared agreement is burdensome due to distance or time constraints.
On the whole, however, there is good evidence that having regular contact with both parents is often best for children, and many judges are taking this into account when deciding custody cases.
What Does This Mean for Fathers Seeking Joint Custody in Georgia?
Individual circumstances vary widely, of course, but the good news is that fathers have a better chance of getting joint custody than ever before.
You likely have a strong case for joint custody if you can show you have:
- Demonstrated ability to be a good father
- Time and ability to meet parental obligations
- A residence in proximity to the child’s school and extracurricular activities and
- An amicable and cooperative relationship with the mother
Demonstrating your fitness to a judge may be easier when you have an experienced family lawyer representing your interests – especially if your ex isn’t yet entirely on board with an equal custody split.
A good lawyer can also help you ensure a more amicable split during a divorce, which is an important factor judges weigh when deciding on shared custody.
Should a Father Expect to Get a 50/50 Joint Custody Split?
Now seems like a good time to make a very important point: joint custody doesn’t always mean 50/50, or equal physical custody.
Moreover, even in cases where equal custody is awarded, the division of time is not always a clean 50/50 split.
That’s because child stability and schooling interests are sometimes better served by having the child spend more time in one place, by custody schedules that vary seasonally, or by staggered schedules built around school, extracurricular and work considerations.
Many people think of shared custody as the child simply spending alternating weeks with each parent.
In practice, however, there are many ways to share custody, and arrangements like 2-2-3 parenting schedules, rotating schedules that vary during different times of year and other custom plans may work better for your child.
The Parenting Plan for 50/50 Shared Custody
If, as a dedicated father, you want to ask for a 50/50 joint custody split, you will need to show the judge how it will benefit the child and not just how it will suit your own personal preference.
You will also need to come up with a parenting plan that you and your ex can agree on, and it will need to outline the shared custody agreement in detail.
The plan should explain how the proposed custody arrangement will maintain the stability and healthy home environment the child needs to thrive.
Specific points that should be addressed in your parenting plan include:
- Each residence where the child will live.
- Detailed specifics outlining the custody schedule.
- How and where the child will spend special occasions such as holidays, birthdays, and school breaks.
- Plans to transport the child to and from each parent’s house, how you plan to exchange the child, and who pays for transportation costs.
- How you plan to divide decision-making and resolve disagreements regarding the child’s education, healthcare, religious involvement, and other upbringing issues.
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 must have very specific requirements to be considered valid by the courts, and having an attorney’s help in drawing one up can be invaluable.
For this reason, it is recommended that you work with a family lawyer to ensure all the legal details are correct and that the plan you come up with is feasible, acceptable to all parties and demonstrably beneficial for your child.
Six Factors That Can Affect Fathers’ Chances of Getting a 50/50 Joint Physical Custody Arrangement:
- How well both parents 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 make major life and legal decisions together. They should also be able to resolve any disagreements with minimal upheaval to the child.
Consider working with a mediator to resolve differences and increase your chances of getting shared custody—an experienced family lawyer can help you find one.
- 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.
If you or your spouse are looking at residences far apart, consider living closer, so a joint custody arrangement makes more sense for your child.
- 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.
Wherever possible, adjust your work schedule so it will be more suitable for 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.
Once young children get older, more mature, and more capable of splitting time between two homes, you may be able to petition for a child custody modification for 50/50 joint custody.
- 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.
Talk to your child about what he or she wants – don’t just assume that what you want is what will be right for them.
- 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.
FAQS About Joint 50/50 Custody in Georgia
- Is It Hard for a Father to Win Joint Custody?
Since the Georgia courts do not give preference to mothers when deciding custody issues, fathers should not be at any disadvantage when seeking 50/50 custody. The main factors influencing the decision will be the best interests of the child and the ability of the parents to work together and carry out any joint custody agreement.
- Does Joint Custody Affect My 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 2-2-5-5 schedules, 3-4-4-3 schedules, 4-3 schedules and weekend schedules where the child lives with one parent for most of the week and the other during a long 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 a good record of cooperation has been established in co-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 advise you on your options for a joint child custody modification.
- How Likely Am I to Get Joint Custody?
Many factors can influence the likelihood of a joint custody agreement. Judges consider things like the fitness of both parents, the practicality of a joint custody arrangement, and the overall needs of the child.
Although joint custody is not quite yet the norm in Georgia child custody and divorce cases, building a strong case with the help of an experienced family law attorney can help you achieve the results you seek.
Are You a Father Trying to Get Joint Custody of Your Kids? Talk to An Experienced Family Lawyer in Cherokee County
If you’re currently navigating a divorce, don’t wait to talk to a lawyer. The custody judgement you get will shape your life – and your children’s – for many years to come.
At Speights Law, we have an outstanding record of success helping fathers achieve what’s best for them and their children. We can do the same for you – call us at (770) 479-1500 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.