When it comes to custody of minor children, the Court determines two types: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves both parents discussing major issues that affect the welfare of the children before decisions are made and also allows parents to access records related to the minor children.

Typically, when one refers to having “visitation” with his or her children, that parent is referring to physical custody of the children. While there are many possible physical custodial arrangements, often one parent is named the “primary” physical custodian (who the children reside with or are with the most) and the other parent is the “secondary” physical custodian (who the children have visitation with). A detailed document outlining each parent’s custodial status and custodial time is known as a Parenting Plan.

Types of Custody

Custody will fall into one of two types: physical custody and legal custody. Within these two custody types, parents can either share custody or one parent may have primary custody” A parent may have sole physical custody and joint legal custody. Other times parents may share both physical and legal custody. Or one parent can have sole legal and sole physical custody.

A court may order supervised visitation in cases where one parent poses a risk or has never formed a relationship with the child. A parent with supervised visits may spend time with the child at a licensed facility or in the presence of a designated third-party.

Physical Custody: Joint or Sole

The parent who has physical custody of a child is the parent with whom the child lives. A parent who has sole physical custody has the primary—and in some cases exclusive—responsibility to care for the kid’s everyday needs, including food, shelter, and safety.

Parents may split physical custody, which means the child lives with one parent 4 days a week and lives with the other parent 3 days a week. When parents share physical custody, the child doesn’t have to split time evenly between parents. Most states require that a child spends a minimum of 110 overnights with each parent to qualify as a joint physical custody arrangement.

Legal Custody: Joint or Sole

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions about a child’s health, education, and welfare. For example, a parent with legal custody can decide where a child should go to school, how the child should be disciplined, and if the child should have a certain religious upbringing.

Like physical custody, parents can share legal custody or one parent may have sole legal custody rights. A parent who has sole legal custody over a child is the only parent allowed to make major educational, medical, or religious decisions on the child’s behalf. Even if parents share legal custody rights, an order may designate one parent as the final decision-maker. If parents who share legal custody can’t reach an agreement on a decision, the designated parent has the final say.

Georgia Parenting Time Policies

  • The court has no preference for granting custody of the child to the father or the mother
  • There is no presumption in favor of any form of custody or in favor of either parent
  • The judge has the authority to grant sole custody, joint custody, joint physical custody, or joint legal custody as is best for the child
  • When a child is 14 years old, the child can choose which parent to live with
  • When a child is 11 years old, the judge will consider the child’s desires when choosing which parent the child will live with
  • All custody decisions will be made in the best interest of the child and to promote the child’s welfare and happiness
  • A child should have continuing contact with parents and grandparents
  • Parents are encouraged to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising the child after the parents’ divorce.

Resources

Division of Child Support Services – Child Access & Visitation