For some parents, one of the most difficult aspects of the divorce process is child custody.
Considering all the emotions involved, it’s understandable why parents may ask, “At what age can a child choose who they live with?”
Generally, parents come to an agreement on a Parenting Plan amongst themselves, a judge reviews their proposed plan, signs off on it, and the parents stick to the plan they agreed upon until a modification is necessary, which may be years down the road.
But it’s not always that simple.
When parents cannot agree, or when they are having an all-out battle over child custody, a judge must decide for them based on the “best interests of the child standard.”
This brings us back to the child’s wishes.
Can an older child decide which parent he or she will live with?
A Child’s Wishes
Each state has different laws about if and when a child can voice their preference in regard to child custody. In California, if the child is 14 or older, he or she can state their preference unless the judge feels that it is not in the child’s best interests to do this. However, this does not guarantee that an older child will get their wish, but the judge will take it into consideration when examining the facts of the case.
“What if my child is younger than 14, but he or she is very mature for their age?”
California judges have certainly been willing to entertain a younger child’s preference, especially if the child is mature for their age.
If the judge does not want the child to testify in court for some reason, the judge may find another way to let the child express their custodial preference, for example, through a custody evaluator, or a guardian ad litem (attorney who represents the child).
What Are the Child’s Reasons?
When a child is allowed to express their preference, the judge will want to know the child’s reasons for choosing one parent over the other.
A child who prefers to stay with his dad because that means he’ll stay in the same home, near his friends, and continue attending the same school he’s gone to all his life will be given more weight than a boy who chooses his dad because he promised him a brand-new car on his 16th birthday.
At What Age Can a Child Refuse Visitation in California?
A parent may also be asking themselves, "At what age can a child decide if they want to visit the other parent?"
Most judges understand that once a child reaches their teenage years, it may become more difficult to force them to visit with a noncustodial parent against their will.
However, since it is a legal decision, the child must follow the custody order until they become legally emancipated.
We hope this post helped clear up your questions. If you need more information, contact our firm to meet with a Fresno child custody lawyer.