When parents divorce, child custody is one of the most hard-fought, emotionally devastating issues they encounter.
It isn’t uncommon for a child to express a preference about living with one parent over the other (often at one parent’s behest), but does that make any difference when it comes time for the judge to decide? Maybe.
Custody is divided into two parts in Georgia
Georgia law defines both legal and physical custody. Legal custody gives a parent the right to make decisions that affect the child’s well-being, such as their religious instruction or choice of schools. Physical custody refers to with whom the child actually lives.
Generally, the court presumes that joint legal and physical custody is best for a child. This allows both parents to share in major decision-making processes and split their child’s time between two households.
Children over 14 can have a say in physical custody
If your child is 14-years-old or older, Georgia law does give them the right to state which parent they prefer have physical custody (although the other parent is usually given reasonable visitation rights).
However, there’s a catch: The judge in your case can override the child’s preference if they decide that the child lacks sufficient maturity to make that kind of decision or there is any other reason that suggests that such an arrangement wouldn’t actually be in the child’s best interests.
Many different things could factor into the judge’s final decision. For example, if your child wants to live with their other parent because that will keep them enrolled in the same school and near their friends, that may be a reasonable choice. On the other hand, if your child just prefers the other parent’s lax rules and the fact that they are seldom home in the evenings, you have a good argument that their preference should be overruled.
The sooner you speak with an experienced legal advocate about your case, the better. Child custody battles can get very complicated, very fast.