This page includes information about custody that is specific to Georgia. There is also a page for general custody information that you may find helpful. In our general Custody page, we have information about custody that is not specific to any state. The page includes a section about how to try to transfer your custody case to a new state where you are living so that you can modify the custody order from your new state.
How will a judge make a decision about custody?
Generally, the state of Georgia encourages a child to have continuing contact with both parents.1 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 following:
- Love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and each parent, as well as his/her siblings, half siblings, and step-siblings;
- 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 into consideration the fact that the other parent might provide child support);
- Home environment of each parent (focusing on if 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 except that a parent cannot be denied custody just because s/he is legally blind;2 (Note: The judge has the power to order a psychological or medical evaluation of the family);3
- 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 interests 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.4
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).5
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(d)
2 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(3)
3 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(7)
4 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(4)
5 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(4)(C)
Should 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.
At 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.1
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.2
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(5)
2 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(6)
Who can get custody and visitation
Who can get custody?
A judge will decide who should have custody based on what s/he thinks is in the best interest of the child. The judge will assume that parents should share the rights and responsibilities to a child.1 Parents have a legal duty to maintain, protect, and educate their children until the children are no longer legally in their care.2 “Parents” usually means biological or adoptive parents under the law.
There are some cases in which someone who is not a child’s biological or adoptive parent may be able to get custody. This person could be legally unrelated to the child, such as a parent’s spouse or partner, or the child’s relative who has been acting as a parent.3 For example, a stepparent who has not legally adopted his/her spouse’s child may be “legally unrelated” to the child, and may have to apply as an “equitable caregiver” to have custody or visitation rights. You can learn more about non-parents getting custody at I am not the child’s biological or adoptive parent, but I have acted in a parental role. Can I get custody?
1 O.C.G.A. §19-9-3
2 O.C.G.A. §19-7-2
3 O.C.G.A. §19-7-3.1
Can 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.1 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.2
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.3
Note: A judge will not order you to attend joint counseling with the abuser as a condition of receiving custody, visitation, or parenting time.4
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.
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(4)
2 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(a)
3 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(b)
4 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-7(c)
What is the effect of a parent's military deployment on custody issues?
There are specific laws that address the effect of a parent’s military deployment on custody issues. If this applies to you, please go to Georgia statute 19-9-3, which you can read on our statutes page - please scroll down to subsection (i).
I am not the child’s biological or adoptive parent, but I have acted in a parental role. Can I get custody?
The law allows for a person to establish him/herself as an “equitable caregiver,” which is a person who has acted as a parent for a child under certain circumstances. An equitable caregiver could be:
- a stepparent who has not adopted the child, but has acted as the child’s parent;
- a parent’s romantic partner who has acted as the child’s parent;
- another family member who has been acting as the child’s parent; or
- another person substantially involved in the child’s life in a parental role.
You can only get custody or visitation as an equitable caregiver if the child’s parents are separated, and the child is not living with both parents.1 However, you cannot ask the court to become an equitable caregiver if:
- your relationship to the child was created as a result of “dependency proceedings,” or because the child was removed from his/her parents’ home as a result of abuse, neglect, or exploitation and placed with you; or
- there is an open child welfare and youth services case from the Division of Family and Children Services of the Department of Human Services about the child and his/her parents.2
For more information on how you can convince the judge that you should be considered an “equitable caregiver,” go to What will I need to prove to the judge to establish myself as an equitable caregiver?
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3.1h)
2 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3.1(i)
What will I need to prove to the judge to establish myself as an equitable caregiver?
You may be able to establish yourself as an equitable caregiver without proving any of the following if:
- the child’s parent agrees for you to have a parental relationship with the child; or
- you and the child’s parent have a written agreement that shows that you both intend to share or divide responsibility for the child’s care.3
If the child’s parent does not agree to either of the above, you may be able to establish yourself as an equitable caregiver if you can show by clear and convincing evidence that you have:
- fully and completely taken a permanent, absolute, committed, and responsible parental role in the child’s life;
- consistently cared for the child;
- established a bond with the child where the child depends on you;
- established the relationship with the support of the child’s parent, and you and the parent have both understood, acknowledged, accepted, or behaved like you’re the child’s parent;
- accepted full and permanent parental responsibilities without any expectation of payment; and
- shown that the child will suffer physical or long-term emotional harm without you by proving the factors below and that continuing your relationship with the child is in the child’s best interests.1
The judge will decide whether the child will suffer physical or long-term emotional harm if s/he is not allowed to have a relationship with you after considering the following factors:
- who has taken care of the child in the past, and who is now taking care of the child;
- the people with whom the child has psychological bonds and the strength of those bonds;
- whether each party has been interested in and had contact with the child;
- whether the child has any unique medical or psychological needs that a specific person is better able to meet; and
- any other relevant factors.2
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3.1(d)
2 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3.1(e)
3 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3.1(f)
I am the child's family member (grandparent or sibling). Can I get visitation?
The law allows for a grandparent, great-grandparent, or sibling (known in the law as a “family member”) to file for visitation in certain circumstances.
First, any grandparent can file an original petition for visitation rights only if the child’s parents are separated. 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 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.2If 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.2
Second, any grandparent, great-grandparent, or sibling can 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 of 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.4
The judge can grant visitation rights to a family member (grandparent, great-grandparent, or sibling) if there is “clear and convincing evidence” 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. If there is no substantial pre-existing relationship between the child and the family member, the fact that the child would miss out on the opportunity to develop a relationship with that family member is not enough to be considered “harm” to the child. If you are the family member, the judge can find that “harm” to the health/welfare of the child is likely to occur if, before filing for visitation:
- the minor child resided with you for six months or more;
- you provided financial support for the basic needs of the child for at least one year;
- you have an established pattern of regular visitation or childcare with the child; or
- any other circumstance exists indicating that emotional or physical harm to the child would be reasonably likely to result if such visitation is not granted.5
Note: Even if a judge does not award visitation to the family member, the judge can still order the parent to notify the family member of any musical concerts, graduations, recitals, sporting events, etc., that the family member can attend.6
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(b)(1)(A),(b)(2)
2 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(c)(2)
3 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(b)(1)(B)
4 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(c)(1)
5 O.C.G.A. § 19-7-3(g)
The custody process
Once 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 in How will a judge make a decision about custody?) 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 that timeframe is extended by the judge upon the agreement of the parties.1
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(8)
If a custody/visitation order is already in place, can I get it changed?
Whether or not 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.1
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 14.2 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 absence 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.1
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.3
1 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(b)
2 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(5)
3 O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(e)
Where can I find more information about custody in Georgia?
Georgia Legal Aid has information about custody, including grandparents’ rights, children born out of wedlock, and more. Please note that WomensLaw.org has no relationship with this organization. We provide the link for your information only.