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In Georgia, legal custody of a child is a determination as to which parent will have the authority to make major decisions concerning the child or children involved. Legal custody may either be granted to one parent or may be granted to both parents in a joint legal custody arrangement.

Core Concepts behind Legal Custody

  • Joint Legal Custody

    Physical and legal custody are two distinct concepts. Accordingly, although a court may award primary physical custody to one parent, it can (and usually does) award joint legal custody.
  • There MUST be a final decision maker

    Even in cases with joint legal custody, a final decision maker is required for matters affecting the child's education, health, extracurricular activities, and religion.
  • Final decision making can be split

    A court can (and often does) split final decision making authority between the parents and even places various limitations upon the exercise of final decision making. 

How is legal custody determined?

Similar to physical custody, the determination of which parent will be a child’s legal custodian may be made by agreement of the parents (memorialized in a parenting plan approved by a judge) or directly by the judge presiding over the case. As with all other matters concerning child custody, a court will make a determination regarding final decision making authority according to Georgia’s best interest of the child standard. See O.C.G.A. §19-9-3.

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