One of the most common questions that I get asked is when a child can choose where he or she wants to live. Most people believe that children can make this decision when they reach 12 years old but this is definitely not the case.
There is no magical age at which a child can make the decision about where they want to live. There is definitely no legal right to make this choice at age 12. A child whose parents are still together cannot decide where they want to live when they are 12. A child whose parents are separated is no different.
Courts will definitely look at a child's opinion as to where they wish to live, and Courts will give a child's views more weight as the child gets older. Often, the Court will appoint a lawyer for the child or children so that the children do not have to go to Court themselves and say which parent they want to live with.
The child's views and preferences are only one factor that the Court will look at, no matter how old the children are. Courts will also look at things like how the children are doing in each home, where the children have been living since their parents' separation, and how willing each parent is to encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent.
Children very often tell each parent what they think he or she wants to hear. They will tell Mom that they want to live with her, and they will tell Dad that they want to live with him. Sometimes this happens because the children feel pressured by one or both parents and other times it happens simply because the children want to make each parent happy. Unfortunately, this often leads both parents to dig their heels in about where the children should live because they both think that they are fighting for what the children want.
Ultimately, if parents are unable to resolve things themselves, it is the Court that will decide where a child will live and what their schedule will look like. Although children's opinions will be taken into account, these opinions are just one of many factors that a judge will consider. Children do not get to choose which parent to live with at age 12 or at any other magic age, and children should not have to think that it is their responsibility to figure out where they should live.
Kristen Morris is a lawyer at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP.