Can a child choose which parent to live with in Georgia?

When Georgia parents get divorced, child custody is one of the main issues that needs addressing. The court will typically award one parent with physical custody of the child. However, after a certain age, a child can choose which parent to live with in Georgia.

At what age can a child choose which parent with which to live?

According to GA Code § 19-9-3(5), children who are 14 years old or older may choose which parent they want to live with primarily. Once the child has made a decision, he will have to sign an Affidavit of Custody Election and submit it to the court.

At what age will the court consider the child’s wishes?

Children between the ages of 11 and 14 may voice their opinions on custody arrangements per GA Code § 19-9-3(6). The court may consider this opinion when determining which parent will be the child’s primary custodian. However, the court is not obligated to go along with the child’s decision. Children in this age range do not have the final say on where they get to live.

Will the court always grant the child’s wishes at 14? When will it not grant the request?

Not always. The court has the right to go against the child’s wishes in order to protect the best interests of the child.

According to GA Code § 19-9-3(3), judges will consider a number of factors when determining the best interests of the child. Some of these factors include:

  • Each parent’s home environment
  • Each parent’s capacity to provide for the child’s basic needs
  • The capacity to maintain stability in the child’s life
  • The mental and physical health of both parents
  • Each parent’s involvement in the child’s daily activities
  • Evidence of substance abuse by either parent, family violence, or child abuse
  • The emotional ties existing between the child and each parent

It is the court’s responsibility to place the child with the parent that can best ensure the child’s safety and well-being.

Is a child’s decision enough to modify a child custody order?

Parents may file a petition to modify a child custody order if there is a substantial change in circumstances that warrants a custody change.

Courts typically consider health complications, new jobs or relocation as significant changes. The courts may also consider a child’s selection of a parent after reaching the age of 14 a substantial change in circumstances, per GA Code § 19-9-3(5). As a result, a child custody agreement can require modification based on a child’s desire to live with one parent over the other.

However, a child can only make a custody selection once over a two-year period from the date of the last selection. The courts will still consider the best interests of the child before making any modifications.

Gwinnett County family law attorney David Ward knows how important child custody matters are for separating parents and has years of experience dealing with such cases. Please contact The Ward Law Firm at 770-383-1973 for your REAL Case Analysis.