"Legal custody" refers to which parent has the right to make major decisions concerning the health, welfare, and safety of the children. In almost all cases, divorcing parents will share legal custody jointly, meaning that the parents will be required to work together in making these decisions. There will also need to be a mechanism in place for determining what to do if the parents can't agree. This is most often done by giving one parent "tie breaking" authority for one or more of the following areas: non-emergency healthcare, religion, education, and extracurricular activities. Sometimes one parent is the tie breaker in all areas; other times the areas are divided so that each parent is the tie breaker in one or more area.
Physical custody refers to where the children are physically located. Georgia law provides that the courts are not to give preference to either mothers or fathers when determining custody. In a typical custody arrangement, the primary physical custodian will be the parent with whom the children reside with a majority of the time. The other parent is said to be the secondary physical custodian and will have visitation or parenting time with the children according to the schedule set by the court or by agreement. In other cases, parents may share joint physical custody, in which case the parents each spend equal amounts of time with the children. Equal time arrangements have gained more popularity over the past few years, but they are still not particularly favored by the courts.
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