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In addition to the privilege afforded a witness, neither a court appointed custody evaluator nor a court appointed guardian ad litem shall be subject to civil liability resulting from any act or failure to act in the performance of his or her duties unless such act or failure to act was in bad faith.(8) If requested by any party on or before the close of evidence in a contested hearing, the permanent court order awarding child custody shall set forth specific findings of fact as to the basis for the judge's decision in making an award of custody including any relevant factor relied upon by the judge as set forth in paragraph (3) of this subsection.(d) It is the express policy of this state to encourage that a child has continuing contact with parents and grandparents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child after such parents have separated or dissolved their marriage or relationship.

(4) In addition to other factors that a judge may consider in a proceeding in which the custody of a child or visitation or parenting time by a parent is at issue and in which the judge has made a finding of family violence: (A) The judge shall consider as primary the safety and well-being of the child and of the parent who is the victim of family violence; (B) The judge shall consider the perpetrator's history of causing physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or causing reasonable fear of physical harm, bodily injury, or assault to another person; (C) If a parent is absent or relocates because of an act of domestic violence by the other parent, such absence or relocation for a reasonable period of time in the circumstances shall not be deemed an abandonment of the child for the purposes of custody determination; and (D) The judge shall not refuse to consider relevant or otherwise admissible evidence of acts of family violence merely because there has been no previous finding of family violence.

The judge may, in addition to other appropriate actions, order supervised visitation or parenting time pursuant to Code Section 19-9-7.

There shall be no presumption in favor of any particular form of custody, legal or physical, nor in favor of either parent.

Joint custody may be considered as an alternative form of custody by the judge and the judge at any temporary or permanent hearing may grant sole custody, joint custody, joint legal custody, or joint physical custody as appropriate.

(2) The judge hearing the issue of custody shall make a determination of custody of a child and such matter shall not be decided by a jury.

The judge may take into consideration all the circumstances of the case, including the improvement of the health of the party seeking a change in custody provisions, in determining to whom custody of the child should be awarded.

The duty of the judge in all such cases shall be to exercise discretion to look to and determine solely what is for the best interest of the child and what will best promote the child's welfare and happiness and to make his or her award accordingly.

(3) In determining the best interests of the child, the judge may consider any relevant factor including, but not limited to: (A) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child; (B) The love, affection, bonding, and emotional ties existing between the child and his or her siblings, half siblings, and stepsiblings and the residence of such other children; (C) The capacity and disposition of each parent to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child; (D) Each parent's knowledge and familiarity of the child and the child's needs; (E) The capacity and disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, day-to-day needs, and other necessary basic care, with consideration made for the potential payment of child support by the other parent; (F) The home environment of each parent considering the promotion of nurturance and safety of the child rather than superficial or material factors; (G) The importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; (H) The stability of the family unit of each of the parents and the presence or absence of each parent's support systems within the community to benefit the child; (I) The mental and physical health of each parent; (J) Each parent's involvement, or lack thereof, in the child's educational, social, and extracurricular activities; (K) Each parent's employment schedule and the related flexibility or limitations, if any, of a parent to care for the child; (L) The home, school, and community record and history of the child, as well as any health or educational special needs of the child; (M) Each parent's past performance and relative abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities; (N) The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the best interest of the child; (O) Any recommendation by a court appointed custody evaluator or guardian ad litem; (P) Any evidence of family violence or sexual, mental, or physical child abuse or criminal history of either parent; and (Q) Any evidence of substance abuse by either parent.

The best interests of the child standard shall be controlling.

The parental selection of a child who has reached the age of 11 but not 14 years shall not, in and of itself, constitute a material change of condition or circumstance in any action seeking a modification or change in the custody of that child.

The judge may issue an order granting temporary custody to the selected parent for a trial period not to exceed six months regarding the custody of a child who has reached the age of 11 but not 14 years where the judge hearing the case determines such a temporary order is appropriate.

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