I have posted a number articles (see Parenting Plans Under HB 369, Fourteen Year Old Election Revived in House Bill 369, Factors for Custody in Georgia’s Proposed Shared Parenting Bill, Georgia House Votes to Pass Shared Parenting Bill, Georgia House Shared Parenting Study Committee Report, Features of Pending Shared Parenting Bill, Another battle under way over state’s divorce laws, and Shared Custody Bill Introduced in Georgia Legislature about House Bill 369, the Shared Custody bill. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution published the following op-ed piece by Casandra S. Minichiello, the vice president of Georgians for Child Support Reform, www.gachildsupport.org.
"Either shape up or ship out," said my mother as she stood at the door to my messy room. Her authoritive tone was enough to cause me to jump to attention, respond with a nod and a "Yes Ma’am" and start cleaning up the mess.
At the age of 13, I had already begun counting down to my adolescent milestones, such as a driver’s license, high school, a job and college.
When I was mad at my mother, I focused on the milestone of turning 18, the point at which I no longer had to "shape up" because then I could "ship out."
Twenty years later, I am the divorced mother of my own adolescent "bundle of joy," who primarily lives with her father. If my daughter followed the Georgia Legislature, she would see that a bill now under review would allow children starting at age 14 to "ship out" —- move in with the other parent and make the choice to minimize contact with their former custodial parent.
House Bill 369 deals with many aspects of child custody issues. Many of the changes within the bill are welcome by parents, such as being able to directly appeal a judge’s decision. However, the provision to allow 14-year-olds to decide when and how much they visit a parent should be removed.
As vice-president of Georgians for Child Support Reform, a grassroots organization whose motto is "Children deserve both parents," I have witnessed how laws can be used as weapons against former partners. Some divorcing parents don’t put their children’s best interests first. Instead, agendas become guided by revenge tactics.
Calendars become filled with pending court dates instead of soccer games, and money saved for a child’s college fund now pays for an Ivy League education for a lawyer’s child.
The battling doesn’t end when the judge’s signature dries on a divorce decree. Nothing is truly final because either parent can bring the other parent back to court to change child support, visitation or custody.
For parents who thrive on revenge, the proposal to give 14-year-olds the power to affect visitation could foster further conflict and possible manipulation of the child.
Adolescents are suddenly able to put their parents at their mercy for fear of the child "denying" one parent over the other.
If we allow our children to make these types of adult decisions at such young ages, where do we stop?
I remember being a teenager. There were many times that I would have "shipped out" rather than followed the rules set forth by my parents. However, I had to wait for that magical adult age of 18.
If the current version of House Bill 369 becomes law, the tender age of 14 may become the new age of adulthood.