The welfare of children is of major concern to the court. Neither parent is automatically entitled to custody. The judge looks at the best interests of the child in determining the proper parent to have custody. The judge considers many factors when deciding custody. Those factors include the age and sex of the child, compatibility with each parent and the ability of each parent to care for and nurture the child. A child currently over the age of 14 can choose which parent will have custody upon the consent of the court. However as of1/1/2008, the court considers it important for a child to maintain a relationship with both parents; therefore, visitation rights are awarded to the parent who is not given legal custody of the child.

MAY THE PARENTS SHARE CUSTODY?

The court, in its discretion, can award joint custody instead of sole custody. There are two types of joint custody. Joint legal custody means that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for the major decisions concerning the child; joint physical custody means that physical custody is shared by the parents in such a way to assure the child substantially equal time and contact with both parents. In awarding joint custody, the court may order joint legal custody, joint physical custody or both.

WHAT ARE CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS? 

In Georgia, both parents can be required to support their children until a child reaches the age of 20 years, dies, graduates from high school, marries, is emancipated or joins the military, whichever event occurs first. The non-custodial parent will be required to pay a reasonable amount of child support to the custodial parent towards the child’s living expenses. Child support, in addition to a monthly or weekly sum, may also include such items as health insurance and payment of medical and dental expenses.

The new Child Support Guidelines went into effect on January 1, 2007.  They will be applied to all child support decisions made after that date, even if the case was filed prior to that date. The new guidelines take into account the combined income of both parents to determine child support obligations. In addition to the combined income, the new guidelines consider other expenses, such as work related child care cost and health insurance.

MAY I RECEIVE MONEY FOR THE CHILDREN’S COLLEGE?

The court cannot order parents to pay for college. However, parents may agree to pay child support beyond the age of 18 or to pay for college expenses.