Fighting for custody is one of the most challenging areas of family law. There are a wide variety of factors that a judge looks at when deciding custody, and a custody award may depend on which county your child lives in and which judge your case will be in front of. Custody is awarded based on a “best interests of the child” standard, and it is up to the Judge to use his/her discretion to determine “what will best promote the child’s welfare and happiness” and award custody accordingly. OCGA §19-9-3(a)(2).
There are not any hard and fast rules the Judge must abide by in making this determination. Rather, Georgia law provides a list of several factors that may be considered. These are not the only factors at which a Judge can look – any relevant factor can be considered:
(A) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
(B) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children;
(C) The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child;
(D) Each parent's knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child's needs;
(E) The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent;
(F) The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors;
(G) The importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity;
(H) The stability of the family unit of each of the parents and the presence or absence of each parent's support systems within the community to benefit the child;
(I) The mental and physical health of each parent;
(J) Each parent's involvement, or lack thereof, in the child's educational, social, and extracurricular activities;
(K) Each parent's employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child;
(L) The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child;
(M) Each parent's past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities;
(N) The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child;
(O) Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem;
(P) Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and
(Q) Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.
If you foresee getting into a highly contentious custody battle with your spouse, it would be highly beneficial to schedule a consultation with an experienced child custody lawyer to determine the first steps. A family law attorney with experience in contested custody cases can likely give you tips about the Judge who will hear your case. In addition, he/she can help you highlight certain factors (that may not be listed in the factors above) to give you the best chance of being successful in winning custody.