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Is there a set age when a child can decide where to live?

January 2, 2017 Blog

If you are heading towards divorce, or are now involved in marriage dissolution proceedings, you likely have a good many questions. Indeed, if you and your spouse have children, the number of questions you may have regarding divorce proceedings likely multiples significantly,

One question that you likely have centers on your child’s input into the custody process. You may wonder is there is a set age at which a child can decide with which yo parent to reside. The answer to this question depends largely on where you live, and more often than not isn’t a simple answer or one set age.

Jurisdictions That Permit a Child to Decide Where to Live at a Set Age

There are a few jurisdictions in the United States that have laws on the books that establish a date certain at which a child can be the primary decision maker when it comes to where he or she will live. This type of more definitive law definitely is the exception and not the rule in the United States.

Even in those jurisdictions in which a child can make a more definitive decision as to where he or she wants to reside, the final arbiter when it comes to custody is the court. For example, if the child wants to live with a parent that a court ultimately deems not suitable choice, and that does happen, the child’s wishes will not be honored.

Child of a Particular Maturity Level

Many states have a statute that permits courts to give significant credence to a child’s wishes regarding his or her living situation if that minor demonstrates a certain level of maturity. Rather than set a specific age, the statutes of this nature permit a court to give considerable weight to a child’s wishes if he or she is mature enough to understand the consequences of the decision he or she is making.

This type of statutes allows a considerable amount of flexibility. For example, there very well may a child of the age of 12 who has a demonstrable maturity level that warrants trust in his or her judgment. On the other hand, there very well could be another child of the age of 14 who actually fails to demonstrate that level of maturity.

States with Specific Age Guidelines

There are other jurisdictions that set a specific age at which a child’s wishes should be considered by a court in determining custody in a divorce case. While the wishes of a child are considered, they are not definitive whatsoever. Rather, the wishes of a child regarding a living situation is only one factor taken into consideration by the court when weighing and balancing a decision in regard to residential custody in marriage dissolution proceedings.

Judicial Standard to Determine Child Custody

Courts across America utilize what commonly is referred to as the best interests of the child standard when determining issues related to child custody, and parenting time or visitation. The best interests of the child standard mandates that a court consider a number of factors when reaching a decision regarding child custody and parenting time.

These factors oftentimes include a consideration of which parent historically has been the primary caretaker of the child as well as the general physical, mental, and emotional health of each party and the child. Other factors include the residential situation of the parents and perhaps even a consideration of a child’s wishes, depending on the law in a particular state.

A child custody attorney can explain more about a child’s wishes in a child custody matter during an initial consultation with a prospective client. Generally speaking, a child custody lawyer does not charge a fee for an initial consultation.



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