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Know the Laws: Georgia

UPDATED December 9, 2013

State Custody Information

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This page includes information about custody that is specific to this state. There is also a page for general information that you may find helpful.

back to topHow will a judge make a decision about custody?

Generally, the state of Georgia encourages a child to have continuing contact with both parents.* However, custody will be determined according to what the judge considers to be in the child’s best interest. The judge may consider any relevant factor including, but not limited to the:

  • Love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and each parent, as well as his/her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings;
  • Ability of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue raising and supporting the education of the child;
  • Each parent's knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child's needs;
  • Ability of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care (Note: When looking at this, the judge will also take in consideration whether the other parent might provide child support);
  • Home environment of each parent (focusing on whether the environment will allow for the nurturing and safety of the child, rather than superficial or material factors);
  • Importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable environment;
  • Stability of each parent’s family and community support systems;
  • Mental and physical health of each parent (Note: The judge has the power to order a psychological or medical evaluation of the family);*1
  • Each parent's involvement in the child's educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
  • Each parent's employment schedule (looking at how flexible the parent’s schedule is and what limitations exist, if any, to care for the child);
  • 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 ability to manage parenting responsibilities (both past and future);
  • Each parent’s willingness and ability to encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship with the other parent (if it is in the best interest of the child);
  • Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem (attorney or representative appointed for the child during the court case);
  • 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.*2
When evidence of family violence is found, the judge will also take into consideration:
  • the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence – this should be one of the judge’s main concerns; and
  • the abuser’s history of violence or of causing reasonable fear of violence to another person.*3
Note: For purposes of a custody decision, if a parent is absent or relocates because of domestic violence, this will not be considered child abandonment (assuming that the parent is away for what is considered to be a reasonable amount of time).*4

* O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(d)
*1 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(7)
*2 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(3)
*3 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(4)
*4 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(4)(C)

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back to topOnce the judge makes a custody decision, can I find out why s/he made that decision?

Yes.  Before the end of the custody hearing, either parent can request that the custody order outline the specific reasons why the judge came to the final custody decision and which factors (listed above) were the determining factors.  If joint legal custody is awarded, the judge will also address issues affecting the child's education, health, extracurricular activities, religion, and any other important matters.  The order will be filed within 30 days of the final hearing, unless the judge orders otherwise, with the agreement of both parents.*

* O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(8)

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back to topAt what age can my child decide who s/he wants to live with?

In cases involving children who are 14 years old or older, the child will have the right to select which parent s/he wants to live with. The child’s choice will be honored unless the judge determines it is not in the child’s best interest. If your custody order was decided before your child turned 14, you may be able to modify your custody order based on your child’s preference once s/he turns 14. So, for example, if you lost custody of your child when the child was 10 and now that your child is 14, s/he tells you s/he wants to live with you, you can file a petition to modify the custody order based on your child’s desire to live with you. If the judge believes it is in the child’s best interest to live with you, the judge might modify (change) the custody order. *

In cases where the child is between the ages of 11-13, the judge will consider who the child wants to live with; however, the judge will not necessarily honor this preference.**

*O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(5)
** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(6)

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back to topCan a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

Possibly, yes. The judge must take into consideration any evidence of family violence when making a custody decision. When evidence of family violence is found, the judge will also take into consideration the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence – this should be one of the judge’s main concerns. The judge should also consider the abuser’s history of violence or of causing reasonable fear of violence to another person.*  However, there are many other factors that s/he will consider as well  - see How will a judge make a decision about custody?  Therefore, the fact that a parent committed family violence does not necessarily mean that s/he will be denied custody.

Visitation or parenting time may be awarded to a parent who committed violence only if the judge believes that proper measures can be taken to ensure the safety of you and your child. Here are some things the judge could include in the visitation order:

  • that the transfer of your child (from one parent to another) take place in a protected setting;
  • supervised visitation by another person or agency (the abuser may be ordered to cover the cost of this);
  • that the abuser has to attend and complete a certified family violence intervention program;
  • that the abuser cannot drink or do drugs during the visitation and for twenty-four hours before the visitation;
  • that overnight visitation is not allowed;
  • that the abuser post a bond (money) for the return and safety of the child; and
  • require any other condition that is considered necessary to provide for the safety of the child, the victim of violence, and any other household member.**
Whether or not visitation or parenting time is allowed, the judge may order the address of the child and the victim of family violence to be kept confidential.***

Note: A judge will not order you to attend joint counseling with the abuser as a condition of receiving custody, visitation, or parenting time.****

It is recommended that you seek legal advice from a lawyer to assist you in a custody case involving domestic violence issues. For information on how to find a lawyer see our GA Finding a Lawyer page.

* O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(4)
** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(a)
*** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(b)
**** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(c)

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back to topI am the child's grandparent. Can I get visitation?

Possibly.  Any grandparent can:

  1. file an original petition for visitation rights only if the child's parents are separated; or
  2. file to intervene in any case that is already in court involving:
  • the issue of custody or visitation rights of the child in question;
  • divorce of the parents or a parent of the child;
  • termination of the parental rights of either parent of the child; or
  • an adoption in which the child has been adopted by the child's blood relative or by a step-parent.*
Note: If the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both parents, a grandparent cannot start his/her own case for visitation.*1

The judge can grant visitation rights if s/he believes that the visitation is in the child's best interests and that the health/welfare of the child would be harmed if the visitation is denied.  The judge can find that this harm is likely to occur if, prior to filing for visitation:
  1. the minor child resided with the grandparent for six months or more;
  2. the grandparent provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year;
  3. there was an established pattern of regular visitation or child care by the grandparent with the child; or
  4. any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.*2
However, if one of the child's parents dies, is incapacitated, or is incarcerated, that parent's parent may only have to prove that visitation would be in the best interests of the child instead of proving one of the 4 factors listed above.  Also, the limitation (explained below) on filing more than once in a two-year period may not apply.*3  Please consult a lawyer if this is your situation.  You can find legal referrals on our GA Finding a Lawyer page.

A grandparent cannot file an original petition more than once in any two-year period and cannot file in any year in which another custody action has been filed concerning the child.  If a parent wants to file to modify or dismiss the grandparent's visitation rights, such a petition also cannot be filed more than once in any two-year period.*4

* O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(b)(1)
*1 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(b)(2)
*2 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(c)(1)
*3 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(d)
*4 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(c)(2)

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back to topIf a custody / visitation order is already in place, can I get it changed?

Whether you will be able to change the custody / visitation order may depend on what part of the order you want to change.

Changing the visitation/ parenting time portion:
Either parent can go back to court to request to change to the visitation/ parenting time portion of the custody order at any time as long as a request is not made more often than once within a two-year period from the last custody decision. You do not need to show a change in circumstance to change the visitation/ parenting time portion of the custody order.*

Changing the custody portion of the order:
To modify (change) the custody portion of the order, you will need to show that there has been a change in any material conditions or circumstances of either parent or the child. One possible change in circumstances could be a child’s preference to live with the non-custodial parent once the child turns 14.** See At what age can my child decide which parent s/he wants to live with? for more information on children’s custody preferences.  In addition, a military parent's absences because of his or her deployment (or possible future deployments) cannot be the only factor used to claim that there has been a change in material conditions or circumstances of either parent of the child. However, the judge may consider evidence of the effect of the deployment in determining if there has been a change in material conditions or circumstances of either parent or the child.*

After a change of custody has been requested, the judge may temporarily change the terms of the custody order until a final custody decision is made by the judge.***

* O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(b)
** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(5)
*** O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(e)

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back to topWhat is the effect of a parent's military deployment on custody issues?

In 2011, a law was passed to address the effect of a parent's military deployment on custody issues.  If this applies to you, please go to GA ST 19-9-3 in our statutes page and read the information under subsection (i).

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised visits?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised. If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits. We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure. Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised. Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate. To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to GA Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

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back to topWhere can I find more information about custody in Georgia?

Georgia Legal Aid has compiled the following self-help manuals, brochures, and other information on their website. You can access them here:

  • About Child Custody in Georgia (Audio/Podcast)
  • General information about child custody in Georgia.
  • Child Custody in Georgia
  • Parental Kidnapping
  • Child Custody and Visitation (Answers to Common Questions)
  • Learn about Parents' Rights
  • Modification of a Court Order in a Family Law Case
  • Paternity - Establishing Fathers' Responsibilities
  • Child Deprivation, Domestic Violence and Visitation
  • Grandparent Visitation
  • The Role of Guardians Ad Litem in Domestic Violence and Child Custody Matters
  • The Georgia Child Support Law.
Please note that WomensLaw.org has no relationship with these organizations and does not endorse their services. We provide these links for your information only.

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