Thursday, February 24, 2011

Who determines child custody?

In Georgia, when a couple with children divorces or separates, their child's custody is determined by a judge. Even if both parents agree to custody issues for their child, a Court still needs to approve the custody arrangement. The judge shall look at the best interest of the child to make this decision. But what does that mean?

The best interest of the child is a standard that does not focus on the parents, but rather looks forward and attempts to determine the child's best interests now and in the future. In Georgia, the best interest of the child is a statutory list of factors judges may look at when determining custody issues. This list of potential factors includes: the love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child; capacity of the parent; parent's knowledge of the child; parent's ability to provide daily needs for child; parent's home environment (nurture and safety); stability; mental health of parent; physical health of parent; parent's involvement; parent's employment schedule; domestic violence; recommendations by a guardian; and any evidence of substance abuse by either parent. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3. However, the judge does not specifically look at religion, sexual orientation, nor economic advantage of one over another when determining the child's custody.

A judge can also order more then just custody or visitation in the best interest of the child. Recently, a Georgia Court held that because "the evidence showed that father had ingested drugs during the child’s lifetime, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in requiring that he be periodically drug tested." Willis II v. Willis, Daily Report S10F1357; S10F135.

It is important to have an attorney who is familiar with these standards to help you with your child custody issues.

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