Once a child reaches the age of 14, Georgia law provides that he or she has the ability to select which parent they would like to live with. In the event that a child makes such a selection, the trial court must analyze whether the parent that the child is choosing to live with is a fit and proper person to have custody. Unless the court makes a finding that the parent is unfit, the child’s selection is controlling and the trial court has no discretion to act otherwise.
A child who is at least 14 years old may also elect not to visit with the noncustodial parent. However, this is not as absolute as an election regarding custody. Rather, when a child elects not to visit with a parent, the trial court has supervisory power over that election. In that case, the trial court will consider the wishes of the child, but will ultimately determine whether or not to award visitation rights based on the best interests of the child.
Children under the age of 14 may also be given an opportunity to express their wishes to the court. Specifically, Georgia law provides that a child who is 11 to 13 years of age can make their selection known to the court. In that case, the court must consider the desires of the child, but the court ultimately has complete discretion to make a custody determination and the child’s desires are not controlling. Rather, the election of a child between the ages of 11 and 13 will likely be one factor among many to be considered by the court.
It is important to understand that this is only a summary of basic Georgia law regarding child selections in custody cases. There are many considerations in any case involving custody of a child and also many ways that a judge can utilize his or her discretion with regards to these selections. If you are facing a situation where a child election may be an issue, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help you analyze all of these issues and determine the best way to proceed with your case. To schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, please call us at (912) 764-9055.
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