Filing for Child Custody in Georgia: 5 Steps

Before you open a case, consider all your options for deciding custody:

  • You can settle with the other parent and ask a judge to approve your agreement.
  • For help reaching an agreement, you can try an alternative dispute resolution method, such as mediation or collaborative law.
  • The remaining option is litigating in court.

If you use an alternative dispute resolution method, ask the professionals involved whether you should file your case before or after negotiations.

If you hire an attorney, they'll file your case for you. Otherwise, follow the steps below to open your case.

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Step 1: Determine your case type and court

Divorce is for spouses who want to terminate their marriage. Separation is for spouses who want to live separately but not end their marriage. Both types of cases determine custody, visitation, child support and property division.

A father whose children were born outside of marriage has to open a legitimation case to request custody and visitation. He may also ask the court to establish his paternity as part of the case.

Note that a case is contested when the parties disagree on one or more terms. In an uncontested case, the parties reach an agreement on all terms and plan to settle.

You'll file your case with the superior court in the county where the other parent lives.

Step 2: Complete your forms

Many counties allow parents to file a case online with an e-filing provider. Some counties (like DeKalb and Cobb) only offer e-filing, some make it optional, and others give permission by case. When e-filing, you can complete your paperwork online or scan physical forms.

If you'll scan your paperwork — or if you'll file in person — complete the following forms in black ink. You may type (with double spacing) or write legibly.

Fill in the name of the court where you will file, but leave the case number blank for now.

The plaintiff is the parent who files the case, and the defendant is the other parent.

All custody cases

First, fill out a case filing information form.

If you can't locate the other party in a divorce or legitimation case, complete the first four pages of the service by publication packet. This asks the court's permission to inform the parent of the case via newspaper ad.

If you can't afford court fees — which could total, at most, around $300 at this stage in the process — complete a Pauper's Affidavit to explain your financial situation.


To file for divorce, you must have been a resident of the county you're filing in for at least six months. If you're a service member stationed in Georgia, you must have lived at your post for at least a year.

If you and your spouse are ready to settle, complete all forms before the Final Judgment and Decree in the uncontested divorce packet. Some need to be completed and signed by your spouse. You can substitute a Custody X Change parenting plan for the packet's Settlement Agreement.

If you and your spouse disagree on any terms, complete the Complaint for Divorce, Visitation Schedule, verification form and plaintiff's financial affidavit in the contested divorce packet. Only complete the Lis Pendens Notice if you want to request real estate as part of the divorce.


To open a separation case, complete the Complaint for Separate Maintenance, verification form and plaintiff's financial affidavit in the legal separation packet. Complete the Lis Pendens Notice if you want to request real estate as part of the separation.

If you and your spouse agree on all terms of the separation, complete the Separation Agreement, as well — or substitute a Custody X Change parenting plan.


To begin legitimation proceedings, complete the forms before the Acknowledgment of Service in the legitimation packet, as well as the financial affidavit and Visitation Schedule in the same packet.

If the children in your case already have a legal father (e.g., another man married the mother and adopted your children), you must name both the mother and legal father in the petition.

If the mother refuses to sign a Paternity Acknowledgement, complete a Complaint for Determination of Paternity, as well.

If the mother agrees to settle and give you custody and visitation as the children's legal father, complete the consent to legitimation form with her (in the legitimation packet). You can attach a parenting plan to further detail your agreement.

Step 3: Finalize your paperwork

Parents filing in person or scanning their documents need to sign the financial affidavit, verification form and Pauper's Affidavit (if applicable) in front of a notary.

If you'll file in person, next make two copies of all your completed forms. Print two blank Summonses and Sheriff's Entry of Service forms. Attach one of each to the original petition or complaint. Then attach one of each to a copy of the petition or complaint, along with the appropriate service forms from your packet (also blank). If you need to establish paternity or request temporary court orders, print a blank Rule Nisi, too.

Step 4: Open your case

Now, submit your paperwork electronically or take it to the court clerk.

Unless you completed a Pauper's Affidavit, you'll have to pay filing fees. Fees for divorce and separation range from $200 to $220, plus $50 for serving the other parent. For legitimation, you'll pay $80, plus $25 per address listed for service. E-filing providers may charge an extra fee.

If you e-file, you'll receive an email when the court has accepted your forms so that you can pick up copies.

If you file in person, the clerk will add a case number to your forms. Then, they'll complete the Summons and Rule Nisi (if applicable). Finally, they'll timestamp all the documents and return one set to you. Let the clerk know how you plan to serve the other parent (next step), in case you need another set.

Step 5: Serve the other parent

Service is the process of formally notifying the other parent you've opened a case and giving them court documents. Three methods exist: electronic service, personal service and service by publication.

Electronic service

If you e-file, the other parent receives notification of the case via email. After they sign an Acknowledgment of Service, complete a Certificate of Service on your e-filing portal to finish the process.

In some counties, the parent can refuse electronic service, in which case you would have to use personal service or publication instead.

Personal service

If you file your case in person, you will most likely use personal service.

You can deliver the documents to the other parent yourself, as long as you have a nonviolent relationship with them. If they accept service from you, they must sign an Acknowledgment of Service in front of a notary.

If they don't accept service from you, or if you choose not to serve on your own, the clerk will forward your paperwork to the county sheriff. You'll receive notice after the sheriff serves or tries to serve the other parent.

If the sheriff is unsuccessful, you can provide another address for the parent. Or, in many counties, you can hire a private process server at that point. You may find a process server online or ask the court to appoint one.


Serving via publication becomes an option for divorce and legitimation cases when you can't locate the other parent or have been unsuccessful serving them.

Once the court gives approval, publish a Notice of Summons (included in the publication packet) in a newspaper distributed in the other parent's county or, if you're unsure of their whereabouts, in your county.

The notice must appear four times within 60 days of when you opened your case. The newspaper will send you a copy of each publication and an Affidavit of Publication to present at your next court appearance.

Information for defendants

You have 30 days, or 60 days if served via publication, to respond to a petition or complaint.

If you agree to the terms, you can settle the case.

If you disagree with anything, file an answer. It states what you disagree with and any counterclaims you have, such as the custody arrangement you believe would best serve the children.

Legal experts strongly recommend hiring an attorney to write your answer. If you choose to do it on your own, complete an answer packet. Explain your responses briefly, and save your main argument for court appearances.

If your case is for divorce or separation, complete a Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit, as well.

Sign the verification form and financial affidavit in front of a notary, then make two copies of each.

File the originals with the clerk in the court where the case was opened. Mail one set of copies to the other parent's attorney (or to the other parent, if they don't have an attorney), and keep the remaining set for your records.

Additional help with filing

Check with your superior court for county-specific information. Many have Family Law Information Centers to assist self-represented parents. The court clerk can also help; for example, they can tell you which forms your case requires (but not what to write).

You might also turn to a legal aid office for free or low-cost guidance.

Preparing for what comes next

The next step in the court process is a hearing or status conference. Take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom custody calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more. You can use it to put together proposals for the other parent, negotiate, prepare settlement paperwork or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

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