- Physical Custody: The time each parent will have with the minor child or children
– Primary custody: designates one parent as the one the child will reside with majority of the time.
– Joint physical custody: physical custody is shared to assure that the child has equal time and contact with each parent.
- Legal Custody: Determines which parent will have authority to make major decisions affecting the minor child or children
– Joint legal custody: both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for making major decisions concerning the minor child or children.
– Sole Custody: One parent has been awarded permanent custody. Unless otherwise ordered, the custodial parent will have all major decision making authority and the non-custodial parent will have visitation right.
When the custody of a minor child is at issue, the judge hearing the case will make the determination of custody. There is no absolute right for either parent whether mother of father to custody of the minor child. In determining custody, the judge may consider all the circumstances surrounding the case. The duty of the judge is to determine the best interest of the child and to promote the child’s welfare and happiness. In determining the best interest of the child, the judge may consider any relevant factors, including but not limited to:
- The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
- The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children;
- 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;
- Each parent’s knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child’s needs;
- 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;
- The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
- 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;
- 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;
- The mental and physical health of each parent;
- Each parent’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the child’s educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
- Each parent’s employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
- The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
- Each parent’s past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
- 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;
- Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
- Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
- Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3
In all cases where custody is at issue, both parties must prepare a parenting plan. The parenting plan can be submitted separately by each party or the parties can jointly submit a plan. The parenting plan includes but is not limited to:
- Where and when a child will be in each parent’s physical care, designating where the child will spend each day of the year;
- How holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks, and other special occasions will be spent with each parent including the time of day that each event will begin and end;
- Transportation arrangements including how the child will be exchanged between the parents, the location of the exchange, how the transportation costs will be paid, and any other matter relating to the child spending time with each parent;
- Whether supervision will be needed for any parenting time and, if so, the particulars of the supervision;
- An allocation of decision-making authority to one or both of the parents with regard to the child’s education, health, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing, and if the parents agree the matters should be jointly decided, how to resolve a situation in which the parents disagree on resolution; and
- What, if any, limitations will exist while one parent has physical custody of the child in terms of the other parent contacting the child and the other parent’s right to access education, health, extracurricular activity, and religious information regarding the child….O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1