Joint and Sole Custody
Family Law Attorneys Assisting Individuals throughout the Atlanta Area
When a couple has minor children, one of the thorniest issues they may need to deal with when they separate or divorce is who should retain custody of the children. If you need help in resolving a family law issue like child custody, the Atlanta lawyers at Rowsey & Stelter can assist you. For over 20 years, we have proudly served residents of communities such as Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Marietta, among other areas in Fulton, Cobb, and DeKalb Counties.
Joint and Sole Custody Principles in Georgia
There are two types of child custody arrangements: joint custody, where both parents share the rights and responsibility of custody; and sole custody, where only one parent retains custody.
There are also two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child physically resides, and legal custody refers to the right to make fundamental decisions regarding the education, medical care, religious instruction, and other activities of the child.
As to physical custody, any time that one parent has sole custody, the other parent may nevertheless retain a right to visitation. If the parents have joint custody, the child will spend part of the time with the father and part with the mother. Although joint custody does not require that the time be equal, the arrangement must spell out exactly how much time the child will spend with each parent, such as defining where the child will spend specific holidays, birthdays, and vacation time. (For example, this may alternate from year to year with either parent.) Other issues to resolve may include how and when the children will be transferred between the parents, as well as how any need for changes in schedule will be handled.
As to legal custody, a sole custodian retains the sole right to make all decisions regarding the child’s medical care and so on. When parents share joint legal custody, the custody order will specify when and how the parents will exercise their rights in this regard, how the parents will communicate and share information and records, and how any conflicts and disagreements will be resolved.
In cases involving children of unmarried parents, only the mother is entitled to both physical and legal custody, unless a father has established paternity. But for cases involving divorce or separation, the number of possible ways of fashioning a custody arrangement is almost limitless. If the parents agree on custody, they can formulate and submit a parenting plan to the court. However, if they cannot agree, the court will make an independent determination based upon the “best interests of the child.”
Georgia law generally presumes that it is best for children to retain a strong and regular relationship with both parents. Consequently, courts will almost always favor joint physical and legal custody, unless there are circumstances that militate against it, such as in cases involving substance abuse. But even when it may be impractical to have joint physical custody, such as if one of the parents has unusual work hours or is frequently out of town on business, the court may nevertheless require joint legal custody. The court has discretion to consider any relevant factor in making its custody determination. For example, while a child 14 years old or older may make an election to live solely with one parent, the court retains the discretion to overrule this election if the court believes that the choice is not in the child’s best interest.
It is also possible to have “split custody.” In this arrangement, children may be “split,” such that each parent has sole physical custody of at least one child. Split custody arrangements may be appropriate when parents live a great distance from one another.
Seek Legal Guidance in Atlanta When Asserting Your Rights during a Divorce
If you are dealing with a child custody matter in the Atlanta area, you can consult a divorce attorney at Rowsey & Stelter for a consultation. We can answer your questions regarding Georgia custody laws and how they may apply in your situation. We also can help you formulate a custody arrangement, negotiate a custody matter with your spouse, pursue an ex-spouse who is violating a custody order, or try to modify an existing custody order. To set up an appointment, contact us at 770-993-5317 or use our online form.