Can a Fourteen-Year-Old Child in Georgia Decide on Custody?

By Beverly Bird

Historically, Georgia has been one of the more generous states when it comes to dealing with a child's preference for custody in divorce proceedings. Unlike a lot of other jurisdictions, Georgia has in its statutes a specific age – 14 – at which a child can decide. Until 2008, the child's wishes were almost always controlling. The judge was obligated to rule as the child wanted. This has changed, but Georgia's statutes are still progressive with regard to a teenager's right to choose.

Historically, Georgia has been one of the more generous states when it comes to dealing with a child's preference for custody in divorce proceedings. Unlike a lot of other jurisdictions, Georgia has in its statutes a specific age – 14 – at which a child can decide. Until 2008, the child's wishes were almost always controlling. The judge was obligated to rule as the child wanted. This has changed, but Georgia's statutes are still progressive with regard to a teenager's right to choose.

Child's Election

If your child is 14 or older, he has a statutory right to make his feelings known to the judge. The state calls this his election, but the judge is not obligated to ultimately rule according to your teenager's wishes. Your child's selection must be in his best interests, and his best interests are determined by the judge, not by the child. The court does not have to abide by his election if the judge decides that it wouldn't be good for him to live with the parent he's chosen.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Evolution of the Law

If you've heard that 14-year-olds can always decide which parent they want to live with in Georgia, this would have been pretty accurate up until 2008. The legislature modified the law at that time. The change is a legal fine point, but it nonetheless affects the rule to a significant extent. Before 2008, a teenager's wishes were controlling unless the parent was unfit. Lack of fitness generally involves egregious circumstances, such as drug addiction or abuse, so the child's election was almost invariably granted. As the law currently reads, the child's election is presumptive – it's assumed that it's good for him unless the court decides otherwise based on the state's best-interests-of-the-child standard. This change gives judges a great deal more latitude and discretion than they had in the past.

Best-Interests Standard

Georgia's best-interests standard specifies 17 factors a judge must weigh when determining issues of custody. They include things such as which parent generally met the child's needs when the family was intact, and how willing each parent is to support a relationship between the child and the other parent. They include reference to each parent's physical and mental health, as well as job demands that might curtail the time each parent can devote to the children. A teenager's election acts as something of a tiebreaker. If both you and your spouse are equally good parents according to the standard, then your child's wishes will determine who he lives with. If one parent is the clear choice based on all 17 factors, and if the teenager elects to live with the other parent, it's unlikely that the court will honor his wishes.

Younger Children

Younger children aren't left out of the election process entirely, but they have fewer rights than those who are 14 or older. If your child is between the ages of 11 and 14, the judge can include his preference along with the other 17 best-interests factors. If he's younger than 11, however, the judge will not consider his preference at all.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
California Laws on Teenage Custody Wishes

References

Related articles

Divorce in Maryland: Can a Child Choose Where to Live?

It's hard enough for adults to accept that a divorce court can decide when and how they see their children. Telling a child that he must live where a judge says he must -- and that he has no choice in the matter -- can be doubly difficult. Several states take a child's preference into consideration when determining custody to try to avert this problem -- and Maryland is one of them. In fact, the state is one of the more progressive when it comes to accommodating the feelings of children involved in a divorce.

Standards for Deciding Child Custody in Georgia

Custody determinations represent an additional step in the divorce process for parents of minor children. Georgia courts, like courts in all states, base custody decisions on the best interests of the child -- and consider several factors to determine what is best for a child's well-being. Once an initial order is in place, under certain circumstances, the court will modify that custody order.

If You Get Divorced in Georgia Can You Move to a Different State With Your Kids?

Before 2003, Georgia was one of the more lenient states when allowing a custodial parent to move away or relocate with her children post-divorce. The courts put the burden of proof on the non-custodial parent to convince a judge that such a move would actually be harmful to the children, and this could be difficult to establish. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed this position in the case of Bodne v. Bodne in 2003. At the time of publication, the custodial parent has the burden of proof to establish that a move would improve the children’s lives more than the separation from their other parent would harm them.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Who Has the Advantage in a Custody Battle?

Custody disputes in a divorce really are a lot like battles, as you line up your arsenals of evidence and testimony, ...

Kid's Rights in Georgia Divorces

Kids' rights are not always the first things that come to mind in a divorce situation, but states do consider them and ...

When Can a Child Decide to Live With the Other Divorced Parent by Washington State Law?

In many states, including Washington, courts in custody cases may consider the wishes of a child in terms of which ...

Divorce in Colorado & Who the Child Lives With

If you and your spouse are divorcing, the unfortunate reality is that your child can no longer live with both of you. ...

Browse by category