Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live with in GA?

Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live with in GA?

In Georgia, a child aged 14 years old or older can select which parent has primary physical custody, which is the parent with whom the minor lives for over half the year. If you and the other party entered into a custodial arrangement before the child became eligible to make this decision, the court orders can be modified as this is considered a material change in circumstances.

The court will also consider the preferences of children between the ages of 11 and 14 years old, but they are not obligated to adhere to this preference. It is also important to note that the court will not let a child live with an unfit parent or make a decision that is not in the child’s best interests (see Georgia Code § 19-9-3).

What to Do & Not to Do When Your Child Wants to Change Residency

Learning that your child wants to change your custodial arrangement can bring about a lot of emotions and not all good emotions, especially if you are the parent with whom they now live. While it can be difficult to hear and cope with your child’s decision to change custody, you should avoid:

  • Disparaging the other parent. Regardless of your opinion of the other parent or the other party’s fitness, you should not bad mouth them. Your child may feel put in the middle or take offense, which can damage your relationship.
  • Putting off further discussion. After your child shares that they want to change which parent has primary physical custody, you may want to put off having any more discussions. However, you should have more than one discussion about this, even if you and the co-parent (or the court) determine this option is not viable.
  • Taking this decision personally. Many parents worry that their child thinks they are bad parents or wants to cut them out of their life. Their decision isn’t personal or about you necessarily. If you struggle with their decision, you may consider speaking with a counselor who can help you separate the request from your parental identity.
  • Rushing to judgment. If your child expresses they want to live with their other parent, you may consider dismissing the idea and them immediately. However, you should listen to what your child wants and tell them that you need time to think before making any other decisions.
  • Focusing on the negative. Being confronted with a large change, like a custodial change, can be difficult, and it can be even more challenging to navigate how you feel about the potential change. Rather than focusing on the negatives, try to think about how a modification can benefit your child’s relationship with both parents or your child in general.

Here is what you should do if your child wishes to change which parent has physical custody.

  • Be honest about your feelings and fears. You can and should be honest about your worries if you have any. When your child makes this request, you should healthily express and model how to share your thoughts and concerns about this potential adjustment. By being honest and modeling healthy expression, you give your child an example and the courage (potentially) to do the same.
  • Have the conversation with both parents present. If possible, you and your co-parent should participate in the conversation that follows your child asking to change residences. Being a united front and having a conversation prior to this family discussion can be very helpful.
  • Be empathetic. Even though this conversation can be challenging, put yourself in your child’s shoes and imagine how they might be feeling. Considering their feeling and perspective before making a decision (or refusing to hear them out) can help ensure your child feels that their wishes were honored and heard.
  • Encourage honesty and openness. Even if you disagree with modifying your custody arrangement, you should let your child know that you want to have this discussion with them.
  • Set communication boundaries. While you do want to have open communication about this potential change, you should be clear about when and how this conversation should occur. Remind your child you do care about their feelings and opinions but set ground rules on rudeness and expressions of anger or disappointment.

Need help with a child custody matter (i.e. initial filing, paternity disputes, modification, etc.)? Contact the team at Balbo & Gregg, Attorneys at Law, PC online or via phone (866) 580-3089.