Deciding on a child custody arrangement is often the most difficult part of a divorce. Courts use a combination of factors to decide on a schedule that fits the child’s best interests. This includes a range of considerations, including which parent currently acts as the primary caregiver, who will be in the best position to help maintain other family relationships, and whether each parent has the financial resources to provide for the child properly.
You may wonder, “Can my child choose which parent they want to live with?” Your child(ren)’s preferences may be a factor, depending on the laws in your state. Regardless, hiring an attorney with child custody experience helps your family get the best possible outcome.
How Does a Court Decide Who Gets Custody?
Children generally cannot decide which parent to live with. If a child expresses a preference based on mature reasoning and honest explanations, it may influence the custody arrangement. There is no specific age requirement for factoring in the child(ren)’s preferences but generally the child’s preference will only be considered if the child is older. The judge does not ask nor will the judge generally consider the child’s preference of younger children. The judge will consider whether the older child understands the need to tell the truth and whether they can make a realistic request based on their well-being.
For example, children may wish their parents would get back together and request to live with both parents, but the court would not consider this preference. Similarly, the court would disregard a request based on shallow preferences, such as living with the parent who has a bigger house.
Does a Child’s Preference Affect Custody?
Older children may be able to request a change to their custody arrangement. In some states, those aged 16 or older can file a petition without a parent’s approval. To succeed, the child must show that the change would serve their best interest.
In rare cases, the child(ren) may be able to testify in court as to their wishes, and this may occur privately in their chambers. Both parents need to give permission for this meeting to happen. The court might also hear about the child(ren)’s preferences through a best interest attorney.
What Is a Best Interest Attorney?
When a divorce is particularly high-conflict, or the court believes that either or both parents are trying to influence the child(ren)’s stated preferences, the court may appoint a child’s best interest attorney. They determine the custody arrangement in the child’s best interest and advocate for that outcome. The best interest attorney will speak with the child(ren) to understand their wishes and share the child’s preferred arrangement with the court, regardless of whether they agree with the child’s preferences.
Talk to a Family Lawyer About Your Custody Situation
There is no straightforward answer to the question, “Can my child choose which parent they want to live with?” Child custody decisions rely on a complex mix of factors, and the court will consider all of these to determine whether sole or shared custody is in the child’s best interests. Depending on the circumstances, it may also consider the child’s preferences.
Children who can express mature reasoning for wanting to live with a certain parent may influence the court’s decision if they are older teenagers. When determining your parenting plan, you need guidance from an experienced family lawyer. A qualified attorney could help you understand your legal options and advocate on your behalf to help you achieve the best possible result. Contact the Capital Family & Divorce Law Group to discuss your case today.