When Does a Child Get to decide?
This is a question that is often posed by Family Law clients regarding the timing when a child has a right to decide with whom they would like to live.
It is not simple to answer.
First, I always caution parents against giving children the idea that they are in a position to decide about custody and access issues. This has the potential of putting the child in the untenable position in which the child will feel that they have to disappoint one parent and support the other. Also, it could have the effect of giving the child a feeling of control and potentially allow the child to attempt to manipulate the parents.
Second, it is quite possible that the child’s wishes may not necessarily align with his or her best interests. To allow the child to decide could encourage a parent to engage in a campaign to convince the child to take a position which supports the wishes of that parent or to alienate the child against the other parent.
Either way the child could be stuck in the middle of the dispute between the parents.
I tell clients that the question should be when and to what extent will the wishes of the child be considered by a court in determining the issues of custody and access and, more importantly, how can we go about determining what the child’s wishes are and how do those wishes get introduced into evidence for the court to consider while limiting the involvement of the child in the court process?
Specifically to the question of when, as in at what age does a child get to decide, I tell client’s that there is no hard and fast rule. Rather the age, maturity of the child, the child’s mental health, any special needs, and the decision that is being made all must be considered in deciding the weight to be accorded to any view expressed by the child.
The members of the LMR Family Law Group can assist you with these and other questions regarding parenting and time sharing. Feel free to contact any one of us.[ssba]