When going through a divorce or separation, the question of where minor children will live is always a top concern for parents. If the end of the marriage was the result of domestic violence or one parent is unfit, the children may be ordered to live with the more stable parent while the other parent is granted visitation rights. If the marriage is ending and both parents are stable, they will likely have joint custody. This means the child will split their time living between two parents. Sometimes children would like to have a say in what parent they live with as the primary custodial parent. Does a child have a right to decide? In most states, a child may present their opinion to the judge of their case, depending on their age and the state in question. There are still some states where a child has no voice in the legal decision of custody.

Does the Child Have the Final Say?

When the child custody arrangements take place during the mediation stage, the parents are free to consider their child’s opinion during the negotiations. If the matter goes to court because the parents are unable to reach a decision, it may be possible for the minor child to present their preference of which parent to live with to the judge of their custody case. The judge is not required to grant custody based on the child’s request since there may be other factors to consider, such as the safety and well-being of the child, which weighs more than the request. A judge will also consider if a child would prefer one parent over the other as a result of leniency (the child having too much freedom with one parent) or coercion (the parent influencing the child to choose them) to make sure the best outcome is chosen for the child in terms of safety, structure, and well-being.

What Does the Process Look Like for the Child?

Children are not typically expected to testify in court since this may be a traumatic experience, especially for younger children. The judge will usually ask the child in a meeting where a guardian ad litem or other representative is present. This meeting will likely take place in the judge’s chamber or other assigned meeting location with a non-parent and court-appointed adult acting on behalf of the minor. Depending on the state and the age of the child, the judge may allow for a written request from the child in place of a meeting.

How Old Must a Child Be to Have a Say?

There are age requirements in most states when it comes to a child voicing their preference. In most states allowing for minor opinions to be presented to the judge, children 14 and older are allowed to voice their requests. In some states, the age is 12 and older while some states will allow children as young as nine to present their requests to the judge. It is worth noting that an older child’s request may carry more weight than a younger child since they are more mature and more equipped to decide which parent should be their primary custodian. Contact our law firm today at (310) 271-7675 for more information on how we can help.