Can Children Really Choose Which Parents to Live With When They Turn 12?
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Jimmy Vaught with Vaught Law Firm LLC..
There is a pervasive myth in the field of family law that a child over the age of 12 can choose which parent they want to live with in the event of a separation or divorce. While children 12 years of age or older may be permitted to voice their preference, the child does not get to choose which parent they want to live with. While a child’s opinion may be correct in some cases, it is unfortunately common for one parent to make grand, desirable promises to the child in exchange for “choosing them”, even if they are not the most suitable parent for primary custody.
Other times, an unfit parent may even threaten the child or the child’s loved ones if they don’t promise to “choose” the parent. This troubling phenomenon is why judges will hear the opinion of the child but will ultimately require further evidence to decide which living situation is in the best interest of the child or children in question.
Children do not get to choose who they want to live with.
While children may get a say depending on the situation, even children over the age of 12 do not get to choose which parent they want to live with. While the child may certainly offer their own testimony to the judge, that testimony will be weighed in conjunction with evidence presented by both parents proving why living in one place or the other would be in the best interest of the child.
The primary rule of thumb in custody issues is to do whatever is in the best interest of the child.
This rule is designed to protect children from harmful or less-than-ideal living situations; it also requires both parents to present evidence proving what makes them a better choice. This may include financial records, character references, criminal backgrounds, and even elements such as where the parent plans to live and whether or not they have a strong support system nearby.
These and other types of evidence play as much of a part in the judge’s decision as the opinion of the child themself. The evidence from both sides must be weighed on both sides and compared with the needs and wants of the child to come to a conclusion that is most likely to give the child the best chance at a stable home and productive future.
The parent(s) must request for the child to talk to the judge regarding their wishes.
Depending on the state, you may have to request for your child to talk to the judge about their experiences with both parents and their desires regarding who they want to live with. Whenever custody is an issue, it is strongly recommended to hire an experienced family law attorney to ensure that you, your child, and your assets are as protected as possible.
A family law attorney will know the laws in your area regarding children over the age of 12 speaking with the judge and can make the arrangements for the private hearing. However, this still does not guarantee that the child’s request will be reflected in the final decision. If evidence has already been presented, the judge or Court may have already made up their mind regarding the best interest of the child and may be more or less likely to be swayed by the child’s declaration.
To learn more about children’s choice in custody issues, or for help with a custody dispute, reach out to an experienced family lawyer in your area.