According to the State Bar of Georgia, judges prefer a joint-custody arrangement when parents of a child are divorced or otherwise separated, but state laws encourage the court to consider a number of factors in determining what is in the best interest of the child. "Joint custody" refers both to legal and physical arrangements, and both of these matters are laid out in a detailed parenting plan filed with the court. Joint custody also can affect the amount of child support a party is required to pay.
Joint Legal Custody
Georgia laws define "joint legal custody" as an arrangement that allows both parents to have equal rights and responsibilities in making decisions in major areas of the child’s life, but one parent will have the final authority for each of the areas. These areas include medical, educational, extracurricular and religion.
In a shared-custody arrangement, parties can decide how they will make these decisions--jointly, with each party’s opinion holding equal weight in deciding all four areas, or split, with each party being responsible for a final decision in one or more of the separate areas.
Joint Physical Custody
Under Georgia law, "joint physical custody" means the child generally spends the same amount of physical time with each parent. The parent the child is with makes decisions about issues that arise when the child is under her care. This arrangement is most common when the parents live close to each other.
If joint custody is not viable, the parent with whom the child lives most days of the year is usually called the primary custodial parent and the other parent is called the secondary custodial parent.
When child custody is an issue in any case, Georgia law requires the parties to file a joint parenting plan that outlines exactly how physical time with the child will be split as well as who is in charge of making which legal decisions. If legal and/or physical custody is shared under a joint-custody arrangement, the parties are required to detail how they will handle disagreements that may arise.
Parties may agree to mediate any disagreements without approaching the court for a decision or they may decide to alternate the role of final decision-maker as conflicts arise.
Child support is not usually affected by a joint-custodial arrangement, but it can be affected when physical custody is shared. In Georgia, child support is based on a shared-income model and, in most cases, support is given to the parent who has primary physical custody of the child. Under certain circumstances, when physical custody is shared, neither party is required to pay child support to the other.