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

When a couple that has a child splits up, whether by getting a divorce or a couple simply splitting up, the impact on the child can be great. How much of an impact the split has usually depends on several factors, including the age and maturity level of the child and how amicable the parents are towards each other.

When such a break-up happens, there are often issues with regard to the custody and visitation of the child. As you may recall, Georgia courts generally use a standard of 'the best interests of the child' when determining whom to award custody and what kind of visitation is granted to a non-custodial parent. But does the child get any say in what are in his or her own best interests?

Georgia Code Section 19-9-3 provides some guidance as to when a child may have some influence on the custody decision. According to the law, whenever a custody case involves a child who is 14-years-old or older, the child will get to choose which parent he or she wishes to live with.

The law further provides that the child's choice must be adhered to, except in cases when the court finds that the parent chosen by the child is not a "fit and proper" person to have custody. It is important to note that this is a different standard than simply whether the chosen parent is in the best interests of the child.

It will generally be more difficult to sustain a finding of unfitness to have custody than to simply say the other parent is in the child's best interests. For children over 11-years-old, but younger than 14, the court will take their wishes into consideration, but their choices will not be binding on court and it will use the "best interests" standard to determine custody.

As we discussed previously, in cases where the parents are unmarried, a father may have no right to custody of a child unless or until he legally legitimates the child, regardless of the child's age or wishes. Determining with whom a child lives can have a profound effect on the child's life going forward. People with questions regarding child custody or other related matters might wish to consider consulting an experienced Georgia family law attorney. This could help him or her better understand their situation and what options area available.

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