Georgia Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Georgia and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Georgia courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
The law states that all parties involved in a legal action involving the custody of a child must include a permanent parenting plan in the final decree.
A parenting plan may be submitted by each parent individually, or you may work together and submit a plan jointly.
The Official Georgia Code Annotated (O.G.C.A.) contains the laws regarding child custody and visitation in Georgia.
Title 19, Article 1 of the O.G.C.A. contains the basic information about custody matters. You should be aware of some of this pertinent information as you make your plan.
Here are some things to know as you prepare a plan to submit to court:
- When custody is at issue between the parents, the court does not have a preference for granting custody of the child to the father or the mother.
- There is no presumption in favor of any form of custody, legal or physical, or in favor of either parent.
- The judge has the authority to grant sole custody, joint custody, joint physical custody, or joint legal custody as is best for the child.
- When a child has reached the age of 14, the child has the right to select which parent to live with. When a child has reached the age of 11 the judge will consider the child's desires when determining which parent the child will live with.
- All custody decisions will be made in the best interest of the child and to promote the child's welfare and happiness.
- Georgia has a policy to encourage that a child has continuing contact with parents and grandparents and to encourage the parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising the child after the parents separate or dissolve their marriage.
Unless a judge orders to the contrary, your Georgia parenting plan must address and include the following issues, outlined in (O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1):
- The parents recognize that a close and continuing relationship between the child and each parent is in the child's best interests.
- The child's needs will continue to change as the child grows and matures, so you need to include provisions to meet these future needs in order to ensure you will minimize the need to make future plan modifications.
- The parent with physical custody will make day-to-day and emergency decisions concerning the child while the child is residing with the parent.
- Both parents shall have access to the child's records and information, including, (but not limited to), school records and information, medical records, religious activities, and extracurricular activities.
- Transportation arrangements for the exchange of the child between the parents.
- Whether or not any supervision will be necessary for any parenting time, and if so, the specifics of the supervision, including a location of the supervised visitation and a designated "supervisor".
- Assigning decision-making authority to either or both of the parents concerning the child's health, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. If it is agreed that the parents shall share these responsibilities jointly, a plan for dispute resolution should be included, in case the parents fail to agree on such matters.
- What, if any, limitations one parent shall have in terms of contacting the child while the child is in the physical custody of the other parent.
Your parenting plan should also include the following schedules:
- A residential schedule designating where and when the child will be in the physical care of each parent, for each and every day of the year.
- A holiday and vacation schedule designating how the child will spend holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks, and any other special occasions with each parent. This should include the time of day each event will begin and end.
If you fail to mutually agree upon a parenting plan in the State of Georgia, each parent shall file a proposed parenting plan with the court.
Should one parent fail to comply and provide the court with their own parenting plan, the judge may adopt the parenting plan submitted by the other parent if the judge finds that plan to be devised in the best interests of the child.
If you both submit parenting plans but are unable to come to agreement as to the terms of the plans, you may opt to participate in arbitration (O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1.1). You will be able to choose your own arbiter to help resolve your issues.
The arbiter will make binding decisions that will be incorporated into the judge's orders, provided that the judge finds the recommendation to be in the best interests of the child. When parents cannot reach an agreement, arbitration is often beneficial, as the arbiter has more time to spend with the parents than a judge does.
The arbiter will be able to hear "both sides of the story", and will be able to make a decision based on the facts and specific details of your child's life. The arbiter is impartial, and is able to base the decision on the best interests of the child without having a bias toward either parent.
The court considers the best interests of the child as defined by the following factors, found in O.C.G.A. §19-9-3, when determining the best interest of the child:
- The love, affection, and emotional ties between each parent and the child
- The love, affection, and emotional ties between the child and the child's siblings, half-siblings, step siblings, and other family members
- The capacity and ability of each parent to provide the child with love, affection, and guidance
- Each parent's knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child's needs
- The ability of each parent to meet the child's needs for food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other basic care
- Whether the home environment of each parent promotes the nurture and safety of the child
- The importance of continuity in the child's life, and how long the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment
- The stability and support systems within the family unit and community of each parent
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- Each parent's involvement or lack of involvement, in the child's educational, social, and extracurricular activities
- Each parent's employment schedule and the limitations it places on the parent to care for the child
- Any health or educational special needs of the child as well as the home, school, and community record and history of the child
- Each parent's past parental responsibilities
- The willingness of each parent to encourage the child to have a close relationship with the other parent
- Any evidence of family violence, child abuse, criminal history, or substance abuse by either parent
As you can see, these factors can guide you to making a schedule that really works for your child. As you consider all of your child's needs and come up with a plan for how you and the other parent will work to meet those needs, you will come up with an effective parenting plan.
If you include all of the requirements for the state of Georgia, you will also have a plan that the court will accept and that will help support your custody situation.
The top twenty cities in Georgia (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Savannah, Athens, Macon, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Albany, Marietta, Warner Robins, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, Smyrna, Valdosta, East Point, North Atlanta, Redan, Dunwoody, Rome.