Can Georgia parents go to arbitration in a child custody case?

This blog has discussed many aspects of child custody in the state of Georgia, such as the ‘best interest of the child’ standard, the basics of joint or sole custody and some of the differences between legal and physical custody. We’ve also touched on the fact that, in many cases, both parties are best served by agreeing to a custody arrangement, including a visitation schedule, if applicable, as it tends to reduce the emotional and financial costs involved in litigating an issue that can be very personal for those involved.

We’ve mentioned that one way for parties to do this during a custody action, whether part of a divorce or on its own, is to go to mediation. Mediation, readers might remember, places a neutral party in the center of negotiations whose job it is to attempt to facilitate an agreement between the parties. While this often works, neither party must abide by what a mediator suggests during the mediation, until such is entered as a final order.

There is one other way parties to a custody proceeding may resolve custody issues before the final hearing on the matter: arbitration. According to Georgia Code Section 19-9-1.1, all child custody proceedings may use binding arbitration to decide custody disputes before the court. As with mediation, arbitration allows a neutral party to take the wishes of the parents into account and issue a decision regarding custody issues. The main difference is, with binding arbitration, the parties must abide by the arbitrator’s decision, and the court will incorporate into the final judgement unless the judge makes written findings that the decision would not be in the best interests of the children.

It is important to note that parents who go to arbitration must agree on the arbitrator, and the specific issues which will be subject to the arbitration. In this way, parties have some control over what will and will not be decided by this method. While somewhat similar to mediation, arbitration of child custody issues gives a bit more certainty that issues will be resolved before a final hearing.

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