Adult decisions and inflatable furniture.
A few years ago, I took my daughters to the mall for an after Christmas shopping outing. My ten-year-old desperately wanted to use a gift card she’d received for one of her favorite stores. On entry, she bolted past neon leggings and glitter emblazoned sweatshirts. She scurried around the bug-eyed stuffed animals. And she raced until she reached the home décor section. Her eyes scanned over the lava lamps and monogrammed office supplies. She wasn’t impressed by glow-in-the-dark stars to adhere to her ceiling. It was her sole mission to buy an inflatable chair.
Pop music filtered through all corners of the store while she bounced her way back to me, her coveted item clutched to her chest. I questioned how any viable piece of furniture could come in a 12” X 12” box, but she wasn’t interested in my logical approach to interior design. Hesitant, I chalked this up to a memorable mini-economics lesson.
For forty bucks, she was elated.
At home, she watched her stepfather fill the 42-inch pink balloon with compressed air. With a single push of the plastic plug, he sealed it closed giving the "okay." She grabbed the looped handle on top, dragged it along the hallway walls, and forced it through her bedroom door.
With Joanna Gaines-like precision, the child positioned the item in a cleared corner of her room and surrounded it with several bug-eyed stuffed animals we’d purchased on previous trips. The new owner looked down her nose at me, crossed both arms, and plopped into the very item I said would never last.
Within hours, the new chair was noticeably softer.
By the morning, it had melted into a puddled pile of latex. Two patch kits and two weeks later, my daughter’s beloved chair was unsalvageable. It was a valuable lesson she learned on her own merit, and I never had to say, “I told you so.”
Three months after her purchase deflated, that same ten-year-old signed a statement of preference electing her primary physical custodian. Reading her request, her fifth-grade penmanship was a stark contrast to the multi-syllabled verbiage she couldn’t possibly decipher. Words like affidavit, parental selection, and custody. The child’s innocent rationale populated three blanks in the template: the other parent's house had a swimming pool, access to tennis courts, and was closer to the beach.
Just weeks after her eleventh birthday, the child’s preference was approved in accordance with O.C.G.A 19.9.3. Today, that legislation is under review.
O.C.G.A 19.9.3 didn’t care my daughter's election meant complete disruption of the continuity of her life. It didn’t consider she’d leave behind paternal and maternal grandmothers, a loving stepfamily, or a decade worth of school friends. O.C.G.A 19.9.3 failed to assess the psychological impact moving hundreds of miles away from her mother would have on the child, or Mom. And it certainly didn’t know the tween’s last major decision was to invest in inflatable furniture.
Are these lessons children should have to learn on her own merit, too?
We could argue the judge’s discretion when considering the child’s request, but ultimately the decision was based on the age range listed in 19.9.3. It was the magistrate’s opinion the child’s request could be delayed, however she’d likely move on a subsequent year between her eleventh and fourteenth birthdays.
With that, I urge you to know your state legislation in regards to juvenile justice. Child Custody: Summaries of State Laws - FindLaw
If you're a Georgian, please write your congressperson in support House Bill 96. Find Your State Legislators - Open States
This act will amend domestic law O.C.G.A 19.9.3 and remove the 11 to 14-year-old age range as criterion for electing a custodial parent. The new version states a child’s preference will be considered but will not serve as a sole reason for change.
A child’s voice is one of many important details to consider when electing a physical custodian, however we cannot allow the burden of this decision to rest solely on their hearts.