Primary Custody in Georgia and How It’s Determined

In custody cases, most people assume that when you use the word “custody,” you are referring to where the children will physically reside.  What is interesting is that “custody” actually refers to several things that the court will take into account.

In this blog, Family Matters Law Group discusses the concept of primary custody, shares some insights into how it is determined, and reveals other custody types you should be aware of.

What Is Primary Custody?

In Georgia, no statute actually mentions the term primary custody. In this state, there are four categories of custody by law, including:

  • Sole custody.
  • Joint custody.
  • Joint physical custody.
  • Joint legal custody.

In most cases, the courts will award joint physical custody, but in an uneven manner. One parent will be deemed the “primary custodial parent” (important for when you go to declare dependents on your tax forms) and the other will be the “non-custodial” or “secondary” parent.

This doesn’t mean that one parent is the better parent. It just means that the court, always operating by the principle of “best interests of the child,” has said that the child will spend at minimum 50.1% of the time with one parent and the other parent can have the rest. Thus, one parent has “primary custody.”

Custody splits take the form of a wide variety of percentages. In some cases, a parent can have a little over 50%. In others, a parent could be awarded sole custody and receive 100% of the physical custody.

How Is Physical Custody Determined?

In general, the parent who has been the primary caregiver will be the primary custodian. Who wakes the child up in the morning and gets them off to school?  Who attends extracurricular events and gets the child to doctor appointments? Which parent attends parent-teacher conferences and helps with homework?

The court is interested in the stability of the arrangements and wants to make a decision based on the best interests of the child. The court will look at work schedules, income and home stability as well as the questions above when determining physical custody.

An Experienced Lawyer Can Help

Physical custody is not the only custody type in Georgia. In other blogs, we address the topic of legal custody, which refers to which parent gets to be the final decision maker in terms of education, religion, health and extracurricular activities. When thinking about custody, think about two types (physical and legal) and recognize that each type could be sole or joint.

The determination of primary custody is an important decision, as one parent will in all likelihood get to spend daily time with the children versus only seeing them at visits or holidays. This is such a major decision that you should not try to go it alone. An experienced family law attorney can make such a difference moving forward.

If you are in a custody battle in Henry, Clayton or Fayette counties, please let Family Matters Law Group know. Using our online contact form is the first step toward sitting down in a consultation and telling your story. We stand ready to fight for your custody rights.