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What Happens when a Child makes a Custody Election in Georgia?

Georgia’s new child custody law gives both more and less power to children aged 14 years old and older to modify their custody.

A few years ago the State of Georgia re-wrote their child custody laws. One surprising aspect of this re-write was that the new law made the custody election, or choice of parent, made by a child who is aged 14 years or older, as a matter of law (meaning by itself, even without any other facts), a sufficient change in circumstance to be considered a “material change of circumstances that affects the welfare of the child.” What it means is that it is a big thing when a child of this age decides to live with the other parent. The custody election itself, with nothing else, is enough to allow a court to modify custody. Whether the court will, is another matter, but it gets you into court.

However, what the law gives, the law also takes away. The new law also specifies that the custody election of a child aged 14 years or older is only “presumptive”, and that the child’s custody election can be overcome if it can be proved by the other parent that the custody election is not in the child’s best interest. This is a complete juxtaposition in the law, as the old law gave the child more power to choose their custodial parent at the divorce (you had to prove that the parent the child chose to be with was “unfit” under the old law), but once custody was determined, the custody election of a 14 year old child was not, by itself, enough to subsequently modify custody. It was logically inconsistent on one hand to give an older child this power at the divorce, but not later for a subsequent modification action. The new law fixes the problem of the old law.

What this means for parents of children who are aged 14 years or older is if your older child elects to live with the non-custodial parent, this custody election alone, gets the non-custodial parent into court, and a real and legitimate case to get primary custody of their child. It will create a custody battle, and custody case that either parent has a chance to win. I have defended many cases in which children as old as age 16 have elected to live with the other parent, and defeated the custody election. These have been some of the most difficult cases I have ever handled. However, the new law gives the custodial parent a real fighting chance.

Long and short, under Georgia’s new child custody law, the custody election of a child aged 14 years or older will get you into court, and will give you a very real, and very powerful case for modification of custody. However, just because an older child elects to modify their custody, does not mean that the court will comply with their election. These cases have become very hotly contested and nothing can be taken for granted.

Contact us or call today to learn how Shaw Law can work with you to achieve the best outcome possible for you and your children.

Scott Shaw is founder and principle of Shaw Law Firm LLC, founded in 1995 and dedicated solely to divorce, family law and child custody matters that must be addressed and decided in the state of Georgia. Shaw Law Firm serves the greater Metro Atlanta area, particularly the counties of Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, Paulding, Henry, Fayette, Coweta, Newton, Walton, Bartow and Douglas. Schedule a consultation today at 770-594-8309.