When Can A Child Legally Decide Where They Want to Live?

The issue of where a child should live following a divorce or separation is a common one.  Parents constantly tell me that their child is telling them which parent they want to live with.  The question often becomes how to ensure that the child’s voice is heard and given proper attention, without allowing them to get caught in the middle of a nasty divorce battle.

There is a large volume of research telling us that children will often say what they think their parents want to hear.  Because of this, it is important to find out why your child is saying what they are saying.  There is no magic age where the child suddenly gets to decide which parent they will live with.  That being said, the age of 12 seems to be the age where a judge will at least let the child’s voice be heard.  This does not mean that the child gets to make the decision; it simply means that their opinion is one of many factors that a judge will look at in making his or her decision about where that child should live.

There are many ways to include a child’s voice in a custody dispute.  It is generally seen as inappropriate for a child to appear in court to testify (though this is technically a legal option).  The reason children very rarely testify is because lawyers and judges are not psychologists and we do not know why children are saying what they are saying.  The best way to include a child’s voice is through a report written by a registered psychologist.  The psychologist is able to say what the child is saying and why they are saying it (for example, if the child is being pressured to say they want to live with one parent over the other, this will usually come out in the report).

There is a multitude of ways to include a child’s voice in a proceeding and the cost of doing so can really vary.  Look for this topic in my next article!

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