Know the Laws: Georgia
UPDATED September 24, 2012
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.
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:
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)
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)
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?” above). 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:
Possibly. Any grandparent can:
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 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.*
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?” above 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)
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).
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.
General Information About Custody and Visitation in Georgia