How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Georgia

Learn how domestic violence impacts custody decisions in Georgia.

Studies show that boys who witness violence in their homes are twice as likely to abuse their own partners when they become adults. States want to break the cycle of domestic violence by removing children from violent situations whenever possible. As a result, courts take domestic violence very seriously when determining which parent receives custody.

This article explains Georgia’s definition of domestic violence and how family violence affects custody decisions. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should  consult a local family law attorney for help.

Child Custody in Georgia

Georgia courts decide two aspects of child custody: “legal custody,” or which parent has the responsibility to make decisions affecting a child’s education, health, religion, and extracurricular activities, and “physical custody,” meaning where a child lives and his or her visitation schedule with each parent.

Judges in Georgia consider a long list of factors when determining legal and physical custody, including:

  • the emotional bonds between each parent and child
  • the emotional bonds between the child and siblings, half-siblings, stepsiblings and the residence of these other children
  • each parent’s parenting abilities
  • each parent’s knowledge of the child and the child’s needs
  • each parent’s ability to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and day to day needs
  • the home environment of each parent
  • the importance of continuity of the child’s current environment
  • the stability of each parent’s household
  • each parent’s mental and physical health
  • the parents’ involvement in the child’s educational, social, and extracurricular activities
  • each parent’s work schedule and flexibility to care for the child
  • the child’s health and educational needs
  • each parent’s willingness to encourage a close relationship between the child and the other parent
  • either parent’s substance abuse problems
  • either parent’s criminal history, and
  • any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse.

Additionally, a child age 14 or older can choose the parent they wish to live with, unless a judge determines that child’s choice is not in that child’s best interest. The court can consider a child’s preference if the child is between 11 and 14. A judge will consider the child’s choice along with the other factors listed above when making a custody decision.

What is Domestic Violence?

Georgia defines domestic violence (also referred to as family violence) as any felony, battery, assault, stalking, criminal damage to property, unlawful restraint, or criminal trespass between past or present spouses, parents of the same child, parents and children, stepparents and stepchildren, or other people living in the same household. Domestic violence does not include reasonable discipline administered by a parent to a child, such a corporal punishment or detention (for example, “grounding”).

What to Do When There is Domestic Violence

If you are a victim of domestic violence and in immediate danger or in fear of your immediate safety, you should dial 911 and get help.

If you are not in immediate danger but are afraid for your safety in the future, you should visit your county superior court to obtain a “Temporary Protective Order,” or “TPO.” A TPO is a court order meant to protect you from someone who is abusing, threatening, or harassing you.

To get a TPO, there should be a recent threat of physical abuse or violence. Go to the clerk’s office for your  county superior court. Tell the clerk you want to file for a TPO, and he or she will give you the forms to complete. You’ll meet with a judge who will ask you about your domestic violence situation. If the judge believes there is a threat of future violence, he or she will grant a TPO immediately that lasts until a court hearing where you and your abuser both must appear.

At the hearing, the judge can extend the TPO for up to one year. If your abuser threatens, stalks, harasses, or abuses you while the TPO is in effect, he or she can be arrested and/or fined.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody Decisions

Georgia courts must consider any claim of domestic violence before granting custody to a parent. At the beginning of every custody case, each parent is required to give the court any information about either parent’s court proceedings, past or present, that involve domestic violence, protective orders, or termination of parental rights with other children.

A judge can only give custody of a child to an abusive parent if there are adequate protections for the child and abused parent’s safety. To this end, the judge may:

  • order that custody exchanges take place in a protected setting (for example, a police or fire station)
  • order supervised visitation
  • order the abusive parent to pay supervision fees
  • order the abusive parent to complete a family violence intervention program
  • order the abusive parent to abstain from possession of alcohol or drugs during visitation and for 24 hours preceding visitation
  • prohibit overnight visitation
  • order that the address of the child and victim of family violence be kept confidential
  • require that the abusive parent post a bond that gets returned when the child is returned safely, and
  • order any other condition that protects the safety of the child and victim of family violence.

The judge can also order his or her own investigation when any person claims that there is domestic violence, neglect, or other acts that negatively impact a child.

A judge will consider domestic violence even if there have been no arrests or police involvement. Courts can also consider an abusive parent’s history of causing physical harm or threats of physical harm, even if they did not happen in the child’s current household.

While abandoning a child can affect custody decisions, Georgia courts don’t consider it abandonment if a parent leaves a child in the household to escape family violence.

Supervised Visitation

When a judge believes a parent has committed domestic violence, he or she can order that visitation between the child and abusive parent be supervised. The court will order that a trained supervisor or supervising agency handle scheduling of visitation.

The supervised visitation order may also require the abusive parent to follow other conditions during visitation, such as refraining from using profane language, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, and any other conditions that protect the child and other parent. The judge will also decide which parent must pay for the supervision fees.

Termination of Parental Rights

Georgia courts will consider terminating the parental rights of a parent only in the most extreme cases of domestic violence and when it is in the best interests of the child. The judge must find clear and convincing evidence of severe abuse or inability to parent a child before terminating parental rights.

If you have other specific questions about domestic violence and child custody in Georgia, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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