When can a child decide which parent to live with?


When can a child decide which parent to live with?

Woman with child sitting on her lap outsideWhen people are involved in a custody matter, the children should always be the priority. Often, people lose sight of what is best for the children because the emotions of the situation can take over and become more about the parties wants and needs than creating a plan that is best for the child. However, depending upon the age of the child, it can become difficult to ignore the feelings and preferences of the child involved in the situation. 

People involved in custody situations often want to know when a minor can decide which parent to live with and is there a legal age to decide which parent to live with

Courts make custody decisions based upon the best interests of the child. When both parents are able to care for the child, there is a presumption that it is in the child’s best interest that both parties share joint legal custody of the child and share a physical schedule, sometimes equally. 

Custody matters are difficult, with parents often arguing about custody and parenting time arrangements, and their opinions and ideas of what is best for their children. However, as children age, they have their own opinions about where they want to spend the majority of their time and which parent they want to live with for most of the time. Sometimes these opinions and feelings are motivated by the school they want to attend or ensuring that they don’t have to leave their friends. 

What is the child custody age of choice?

Parents often want to know the answers to such questions as, can a 16 year-old decide which parent to live with or can a 14-year-old choose which parent to live with in New Jersey? Once children reach the age of 18, they have the right to make a determination as to their preference in custody. Parents are frequently frustrated by that response, as they want to know that their child can decide which parent to live with at a younger age.

Much to the dismay of the parents litigating, there is not a solid answer and age, as to when a child can influence custody and the age that a child can decide custody. Some attorneys, judges, and mediators have crafted their own interpretation of the body of law and guidelines addressing this area. Oftentimes attorneys will suggest that a child shall have a say, in the custodial circumstances once the child reaches the age of 14. One of the factors that the court must consider when making a custody determination is “the child’s parental preference, if of a sufficient age and capacity to reason.”  Judges have significant discretion when making a determination as to the sufficient age. Judges often want to avoid having a child to testify, as the circumstances can be uncomfortable and stressful for children who should not have to be placed in between their parents during a litigation. More often,  the court will interview the child privately so that the child feels more comfortable, sharing their preference in custody as to where they want to spend most of their time after the divorce. The court can appoint a guardian if the circumstances warrant to ensure that the child has a proper advocate. 

Contact the legal experts with DeTorres and DeGeorge, so that you understand the age that a child can decide custody and when a child can decide which parent to live with to help you navigate your custody matter. We can advise you as to the role that your child can take in your custody matter so that you have an understanding as to how you can best navigate your custody matter for yourself while ensuring that the best interests of your child are protected.


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