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How is child custody decided in Georgia?

Last week, we wrote a blog post detailing the differences between physical and legal child custody. To summarize that discussion, physical custody refers to where a child lives, while legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make important decisions about a child's health care, education, religion and the like.

So how do Georgia family court judges make child custody decisions? As in most other aspects of family law, that depends largely on the child, the family and the situation as a whole. However, there are a few guidelines that judges use to make custody decisions.

In previous decades, there existed an automatic presumption toward mothers, which meant that judges started from the assumption that a child's mother should be granted full custody of the children after divorce. That is no longer the case. Barring some major issue or event, both the mother and father begin the custody proceedings on equal ground.

Generally, physical custody is decided through an analysis of several factors, known as the "best interests of the child" standard. These factors include the relationship between the child and each parent, the quality and stability of each parent's home life, each parent's physical and mental health, and each parent's ability to meet the child's material, educational and other needs.

If the child is between the ages of 11 and 14, the judge will usually incorporate his or her preference into the physical custody decision. Children aged 14 and older generally get to choose where they want to live, although that decision will be subject to the judge's approval.

In terms of legal custody, parents are usually ordered to share custodial rights.

Source: U.S. Politics Today, "Resolving Child Custody Disputes in Georgia," Nov. 1, 2012

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