Child Custody Athens GA

What is Legal Custody and What is Physical Custody? A Guide by a Georgia Child Custody Attorney in Athens, Georgia

Navigating the labyrinth of family law can be a daunting experience, especially when you’re dealing with the emotional impact of a divorce or separation. One of the key areas that often generates confusion is the concept of child custody. In Georgia, custody is generally divided into two categories: legal custody and physical custody. In this blog, we’ll delve into what these terms mean and how they could impact your family situation.

What is Legal Custody?

Legal custody refers to the authority to make critical decisions affecting the child’s welfare, education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. In many cases, Georgia courts prefer joint legal custody, allowing both parents to have an equal say in these important life choices. However, if the court deems that joint legal custody is not in the best interest of the child, sole legal custody may be granted to one parent.

Key Takeaways on Legal Custody:
  • Authority to make vital decisions for the child.
  • Often shared between both parents.
  • Sole legal custody can be granted based on the child’s best interest.

What is Physical Custody?

Physical custody pertains to where the child will primarily reside. The parent with primary physical custody is the custodial parent, while the other is the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent usually gets visitation rights, allowing them to spend time with the child based on a predetermined schedule.

Key Takeaways on Physical Custody:
  • Relates to the child’s primary residence.
  • Custodial parent and non-custodial parent roles.
  • Visitation rights for the non-custodial parent.

Joint Custody vs Sole Custody

Both legal and physical custody can be either joint or sole. Joint custody allows both parents to share responsibilities and time with the child, whereas sole custody grants these privileges to only one parent. The court takes several factors into account, such as the child’s relationship with each parent, the parents’ ability to co-parent, and any history of domestic violence or abuse, before making a decision on custody arrangements.

How Does a Georgia Court Decide?

Georgia family courts prioritize the best interest of the child while determining custody. Among the factors considered are:

  • The emotional ties between the child and each parent.
  • The stability of each parent’s home environment.
  • Each parent’s capacity to provide for the child’s needs.
  • Any history of domestic abuse or neglect.


Understanding the nuances between legal custody and physical custody is essential for anyone navigating the complexities of family law in Georgia. Whether you’re going through a divorce, legal separation, or are an unmarried parent looking to understand your rights, a specialized Georgia Family Law Attorney in Athens can provide tailored guidance to help you through this challenging time.

For further questions and legal advice on child custody, feel free to reach out to our experienced team of family law attorneys in Athens, Georgia.

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