Georgia law recognizes the important bond between a child and his parents, even when those parents don’t live together. Georgia provides laws specific to child custody and visitation in the Official Code of Georgia, Title 19, Chapter 9. These laws direct the courts when determining who has custody and visitation of a child and who may be denied visitation.
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Types of Custody
Georgia law recognizes four basic types of custody. Joint legal custody means that both parents have rights to make decisions about the child, such as where he goes to school and what doctor he visits. Joint physical custody means that the parents equally share physical time with the child. Joint custody is a term that can mean the parents have joint legal custody, joint physical custody or both. Sole custody means a parent has sole legal custody and sole physical custody of the child, i.e. all the rights to make decisions about the child and has the majority of physical time with the child. When one parent has sole custody, the other parent has a right to visitation with the child.
When a case involves the custody of a child, Georgia parents must submit a parenting plan to the court, and the plan must include a proposed visitation schedule. If only one parent has legal custody, the non-custodial parent does not get legal custody rights simply by exercising visitation rights, so the non-custodial parent does not have the right to make long-range decisions regarding the child. For example, the non-custodial parent cannot take the child to religious services if attendance would contradict the custodial parent’s decisions about religion.
If a family’s situation involves family violence or abuse, a court will usually order limited visitation. Limited visitation could be visitation in a protected setting, supervised visitation, or a prohibition on overnight visitation. Under Georgia law, a court may order limited visitation to a parent who has committed acts of family violence only if the court finds that the visitation order provides adequate safety for the child and custodial parent who are victims of the family violence.
Enforcement of Orders
A parent cannot voluntarily deny visitation to a parent who did not pay child support. The parent with visitation rights can seek the court’s help to enforce the visitation order if visitation is denied by the custodial parent. But the custodial parent can also ask the court to enforce the child support order and to modify the visitation arrangement until child support is paid. The court may deny visitation until back child support is paid.
After a custody and visitation order is entered, the parents can agree to modify it, and the court will usually approve the stipulated modification as long as it is in the best interests of the child. If one parent does not agree to the change, the other parent can ask the court to make a modification, but the court will not modify the order unless the family’s circumstances have changed significantly or at least two years have passed since the last order. Also, according to Georgia law, a child 14 and older can ask the court to change his custody arrangement, but if the change is not in the child’s best interests, the court will not follow the child’s wishes.