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What does the Court consider in determining custody in Georgia?

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We are often asked what factors the Court may consider in making a determination of custody and parenting time in Georgia. The laws in Georgia do not permit a Jury to determine the issue of custody. As such, only a Judge may determine custody. The duty of a Judge in all Georgia custody cases is to exercise their discretion and determine what custody and parenting time award is in the best interest of the child and what award will promote the child’s welfare and happiness.

O.C.G.A § 19-9-3(3) provides that 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, except to the extent as provided in Code Section 30-4-5 and this paragraph and such factors as provided in Code Section 15-11-26;

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.

Additionally, O.C.G.A § 19-9-3(4) provides that in cases where the Judge has made a finding of family violence, the Judge may consider the following factors:

A. The judge shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence;

B. The judge shall consider the perpetrator’s history of causing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or causing reasonable fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault to another person;

C. If a parent is absent or relocates because of an act of domestic violence by the other parent, such absence or relocation for a reasonable period of time in the circumstances shall not be deemed an abandonment of the child for the purposes of custody determination; and

D. The judge shall not refuse to consider relevant or otherwise admissible evidence of acts of family violence merely because there has been no previous finding of family violence. The judge may, in addition to other appropriate actions, order supervised visitation or parenting time pursuant to Code Section 19-9-7.

O.C.G.A § 19-9-3(5) and (6) provide additional parameters for child who have reached the ages of 11, and 14, respectively.

When a child has reached the age of 11, the Judge shall also consider the desires and educational needs of the child in determining which parent shall have custody. The judge shall have complete discretion in making this determination, and the child’s desires shall not be controlling however, once a child reaches the age of 14, the child shall have the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live. The child’s selection for purposes of custody shall be presumptive unless the parent so selected is determined not to be in the best interests of the child.

If you have questions about how custody and parenting time are determined in Georgia, call us today to schedule a consultation. 404-239-3995.

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