CUSTODY ISSUES AS CHILDREN GET OLDER
Cases involving the custody of young children are some of the most difficult and emotionally challenging cases a lawyer can undertake. Most parents will fight relentlessly for their children and many times these parents hire lawyers with unrealistic expectations of how a custody battle should end. If the battle between parents rages on, the unenviable task of determining who gets custody of the children will land squarely in the hands of a judge. The judge makes this determination based off of what is in the best interest of the children. However, things change a little as kids get older. In this article, I’ll discuss the law relating to children, age 14 years or older, electing which parent to reside with.
O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(a)(5) explains that in all custody cases in which the child has attained the age of 14 years, that child has the right to select the parent with whom he or she desires to live. This selection will be presumptive unless the court determines that the parent selected is not in the best interest of the child. In other words, the court still has the final say. As an example, let’s imagine that a 15 year old boy is living with his mother following a divorce. The boy has now decided that he wants to go live with his dad. The father files a Petition for Change of Custody with the appropriate court. The judge then hears from the son that he wants to go live with his father. At this point, the judge must weigh the son’s request against what is best for the boy. If evidence is presented that the dad is involved in nefarious activities such as illegal drugs, then the court is likely not going to send the son to live with his father. As a less extreme example, if the judge hears evidence that the father has no job and is struggling to maintain a home and has lost his vehicle, then the court, again, will likely not change custody. Numerous factors are weighed by courts in deciding what is best for a child. No one factor outweighs another.
As I said, custody cases are difficult, emotionally draining to all involved, time consuming, and expensive. Even when an older child decides he or she wants to live with another parent, the Georgia Legislature has provided a safeguard in the person of a judge to prevent that child from placing themselves in a dangerous situation. Parents who are going through a bitter custody dispute should bear in mind that if they cannot agree, they are putting the placement of their children in the hands of a third party. They should consult with an attorney that specializes in domestic cases to help guide them through the legal process.
Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.