Child Custody Rights in Georgia
- If the parties agree on custody and visitation, they should write a formal agreement, which the judge will consider approving and adopting as a court order. The agreement should specifically state the conditions of the custody arrangement, such as which parent has legal custody, visitation hours, holiday visitation, vacation notice, agreement on moving out the state, and other issues. If one party has any questions or concerns about issues that are important to have in writing, it's best to consult an attorney to prevent future custody disputes.
- If the parties disagree on custody, they should contact attorneys for representation. One step in resolving custody disagreements may be through mediation, rather than court. If custody is disputed or there are legal issues such as parental fitness, abuse or paternity, a lawyer will help pursue a custody case in court.
Unmarried Couples and Cohabitants
- In the case of an unmarried couple, the mother of the child has full custody rights. For the father to gain rights (custody or visitation), the court must establish his paternity in addition to his recognition and assertion that the child is his own. When paternity is established, neither party has preference in the eyes of the court, and custody will be determined in the same manner as it would be determined for a married couple.
The Best Interests of the Child
- Although the parties may have reached a mutually-agreed-upon custody solution, the court will ultimately decide if that solution is in the child's best interests. The factors that a judge may consider include who has been the child's primary caregiver (feeding him, clothing him, bathing him, etc.), the physical and psychological fitness of the parent, and the child's material opportunities. Even a child's preference is taken into consideration if the child is at least 5 years old. While it is not common for a judge to override a mutually-agreed-upon custody agreement, in some cases he may if he determines a solution that better serves the interests of the child.
- For the circuit court to hear a custody case, the child must have lived in Georgia for at least six months and must go to school (if of age) in the state. The parent claiming custody in Georgia must also have connections to the state, such as working and paying taxes in the state. In a case where one parent claiming custody removes the child to another state, but the first two conditions apply, Georgia will have jurisdiction to hear the case. Georgia has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, which means that the court that will hear a custody case is the court most closely associated with the child's primary residence. The primary residence is determined by several factors, including the state in which he was born, where he has resided for a period of at least six months, and where he goes to school (if of age). If the primary residence is found to be in Georgia, then the court that will hear the custody case is the circuit court, which can override any decision or agreement if it believes another custody solution is in the child's best interests.