As a Georgia Family Lawyer I am often asked about child custody issues. This is a major concern, and rightfully so.
In Georgia, there are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. In almost all cases both of the custody types are shared between the parents.
Typically, the parents are awarded joint legal custody, which means that the parents must share in decision-making regarding the children and that the parents have equal rights to the child’s medical and educational records. Ultimately, one parent will be awarded final decision-making authority for times when the parents are unable to reach a mutual decision. Typically, final decision-making goes to the parent who has primary physical custody.
Physical custody is, in most cases, also shared. However, usually there is one parent designated as the primary physical custodian and the other parent receives secondary physical custody. The courts determine physical custody based on several factors, including, most importantly, who has been the child(ren)’s primary care giver during the course of the marriage.
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What is joint custody? What is sole custody?
Joint custody is the norm in the State of Georgia. This is when the parents share decision making authority regarding the minor child.
Typically, there are four areas in which the decisions are required to be made jointly: religious upbringing of the child(ren); medical care of the child(ren); extracurricular activities; and education.
Even though a joint legal custodial arrangement requires that the parents share decision-making, the courts will designate one parent to have final decision-making authority in the event that the parties cannot agree.
Final decision-making authority does not allow for a parent to make a unilateral decision. Even though one parent is designated to have final decision-making authority, that parent must still consult with the other parent before making any major decisions regarding the child(ren).
Joint physical custody is not the norm in the State of Georgia. Joint physical custody is typically an arrangement where the parents share equal or nearly equal parenting time. Judges in Georgia have a bias against equal parenting time. Joint physical is a parenting arrangement that can typically only be accomplished by agreement. Judges will assign one parent as the primary custodial and the other as secondary.
Sole custody is very unusual and it means (whether in terms of legal or physical custody) that all of the custodial rights are assigned to one parent and the other parent has no rights. Having sole custody, however, does not alleviate the other parent of their obligations, such as child support obligations.