Often, people come to my office and tell me that they have settled on the issue of custody and it will be a joint arrangement. Custodial arrangements, though, aren’t as simple as they seem. Parents assume that joint custody in Georgia means that they will share custody of their children. However, in Georgia you must specify between legal and physical custody.
LEGAL CUSTODY AND CUSTODIAL ARRANGEMENTS
Usually in Georgia legal custody is granted jointly, unless one parent has completely abandoned their child or is find to be such a harmful element in the child’s life that legal custody can be denied. Legal custody in Georgia essentially means that you are recognized as the legal parent. You will have full rights to attend school functions, speak with teachers, engage in the activities of your child; you will have full access to medical and academic records and will maintain the ability to discuss these records with medical and educational professionals. In essence you will still be accepted as mom or dad.
Legal custody also means that you will have the right to be notified and informed of issues regarding the raising of your son and/or daughter. It is expected and hoped that you and the other legal custodial parent will discuss issues regarding the care and raising of the children. However, what happens when you do not agree with a decision of the other parent? This is where custodial arrangements get difficult.
Physical custody is the custodial arrangement which causes the turmoil in a custody proceeding. As asked above, when parents do not agree with the decisions of the other parent, the parent with physical custody usually has final say. In reality, the parenting plan issued has wonderful statutory language that demands the legal parents cooperate, discuss and notify the other parent. But, after all of this language, there’s one sentence that determines who has final decision making authority when they inevitably disagree. By statute, the decisions involved are education, medical, religion and extracurricular activities.
Usually, the court will award the individual who is granted primary physical custody these decisions. The parties can split the ability to make these decisions or argue that they are more involved or qualified and should make them. The parties may also agree on a joint physical relationship in with the child lives with both parents equally; however, this is unusual and the courts rarely grant this scenario. The other benefit of having primary physical custody is that this is the parent who will receive child support based on child support guidelines.
So you see, custody can be a contentious issue and it is essential that the parties understand exactly what they are agreeing to and what the expect.