A famous actress once remarked that you can never underestimate how traumatic divorce is for children. Their whole world is turned upside down and in most cases. Children often have very little say or control over what happens to them.
It is perfectly natural for a child to want to spend as much time as possible with both parents. Ideally, a visitation schedule will be crafted that allows for that dynamic to continue. After all, a child’s development is enhanced when they have a regular, steady relationship with both of their parents.
However, there are times when a child would prefer to be with one parent over another. Perhaps it’s for practical reasons, such as the proximity of a parent to their school or most of their friends. Perhaps it’s for other reasons such as a significant bond with one parent or a conflict with a step parent.
Legally speaking, do children in Georgia have a choice in their custody (and visitation) arrangements?
Georgia considers a child under 11 years of age too young to have a choice in the custody arrangement. Children can certainly express a preference to the judge. The judge however is under no obligation to take that preference under advisement.
Between the ages of 11 and 14, a judge can take a child’s preference for custody into account when awarding custody. However, at this age, the judge is still responsible for making a decision in the best interest of the child, essentially taking their preference with a grain of salt.
At 14 years of age or older, a child in Georgia can elect to live with one parent over another. They will need to sign an Election Affidavit under oath and submit that document to the court. This election can also serve as an avenue to modify or change an already existing custody agreement. If the choice of parent aligns with what the court feels is in the child’s best interest, then the affidavit will be honored.
Yes, a parent can contest an election choice. If you can present evidence to the court that shows that honoring the election request of the child is not in the child’s best interest, then you can successfully contest the child’s choice of physical custodian.
If the election is contested, it is likely that the judge will ask to speak to the child directly, usually in judge’s chambers versus open court. The judge will want the child to be honest and will not want the child to feel intimidated by the courtroom setting.
Keep in mind that the court generally sides with the election choice of the child more often than not. Barring some kind of extreme circumstances or evidence of abusive behavior, the court usually honors a teenager’s election choice.
Custody and visitation arrangements are too important to leave them to chance. If you reside in Henry, Clayton, or Fayette counties, or anywhere in the Atlanta metro area, and you are fighting for custody of your children, you owe it to them to contact Family Matters Law Group today.
We’ve been fighting for children and families for many years and are proud of the work we’ve done. If you’d like for someone to hear your voice and fight hard for you, use our online contact form and set up a consultation.