Very often I am asked “when can my child decide choose where he lives?” or “at what age will the Court listen to my children’s input?” The short answer to this question is that there is no “magic age” to answer “can my child decided” which the court will let the child state his/her opinion. Each matter is determined by its facts and admissible evidence.
As children grow older, they may or may not have an opinion about with which parent they want to live. Often children are not vocal about this issue for fear of insulting or hurting one parent. Sometimes kids are very clear about with whom they want to live and are able to vocalize this without worry. The Court will take this information into account as children begin to enter their teenage years, perhaps a little sooner. It truly depends on the child and the circumstances.
What is important to know is that the Court will very rarely hear this information directly from the children (by way of testimony). This practice is most often frowned upon by the Court. Instead, the Court will ask a probation officer within the Court to talk with the children and/or hear the opinions of the children through an intermediary (guardian ad litem).
Always remember that your child’s input is never determinative of where they live. Often children prefer one parent’s residence over another for the wrong reasons. Dad lets me play video games. Mom doesn’t mind my friends coming over a lot. Recognizing this, the Court will always look to environment, relationship between parent and child, safety, education, etc. to decide the best place for the child to live. The totality of those factors is where the true decision lies.
Given all of the above, it is never a bad idea to consult with an attorney to discuss all of the facts in your particular case. Your arguments and your outcome is framed by those facts and counsel can help you to decide how to proceed in your matter. As always, you can contact my office to discuss your matter and decide the best path for your case.