Custody Terminology in a Georgia Divorce
Joint Legal Custody – means the parties have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child - both parents must work together to make important decisions. However, in the even the divorced parents cannot agree, there must be a final decision maker (wife or husband) in the key areas of education, health care, religion and extra curricular activities. See, O.C.G.A. 19-9-6(2). The final decision maker does not always have to be the custodial parent. Atlanta Child Custody Attorney Russell Hippe has fought for an won the rights of the non-custodial parent to be the final decision maker in matters of extra curricular activity for example.
Sole Custody – this means only one parent is the legal decision maker concerning all important decisions affecting the child. See, O.C.G.A. section 19-9-6(4). This parent is the one who is the sole decision maker in all critical areas of the child’s life. In a divorce trial context, this is fairly unusual and would only occur when one parent is determined to be either entirely absent in the child's lift or otherwise unfit. In a paternity or legitimation context, where the parents were never married, until there is a legitimation order, the mother is the sole legal custodian of the child.
- Joint Physical Custody - means that physical custody is shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of substantially equal time and contact with both parents. See, O.C.G.A. section 19-9-6(3). As a practical matter, it is difficult to obtain an award of joint physical custody in a contested trial. This is typically established in a settlement agreement between the parties.
Custodial Parent – means the parent with whom the child resides more than 50% of the time or, if parenting time is equal, is receiving the child support (has the lesser support obligation on the child support worksheet). See, O.C.G.A. section 19-6-15(a)(9). The custodial parent is commonly referred to as the "primary physical custodian". See, Lewis v. Lewis, 252 Ga. App. 539, 557 S.E.2nd 40 (2001). The trial court can designate one parent as the "primary physical custodian". See, Sahibzada v. Sahibzada, 294 Ga. 783, 757 S.E.2nd 51 (2014). This designation can have important repercussions if the designated spouse desires to move out of state with the children.
- Non Custodial Parent - means the parent with whom the child resides less than 50% of the time or, if parenting time is equal, is paying the child support (has the greater support obligation on the child support worksheet). See, O.C.G.A. section 19-6-19(a)(14).
Parenting time or visitation – generally refers to the time – and more particularly the schedule – that the “non custodial” parent has with the child or children.