When Can Children Decide for Themselves?


When Can Children Decide for Themselves?

Child Custody

You may have heard that there is a certain age, such as 12 or 14, when a child can decide for himself or herself which parent to live with. This is actually not true, but the myth persists because of some court decisions that have taken into account the wishes of the child. The Men’s Legal Center is dedicated to helping you with your child custody issues and banishing the myths and misconceptions that could cause you problems in the event of a child custody battle.

Do Children Have Any Say In Child Custody?

According to California Family Code Section 3040, the best interests of a child are to be considered when assigning custody. If both parents are equally fit for custody, then the child’s preferences may be considered. However, a child does not get to “choose” who he or she will live with at any age. Instead, the court may consider the child’s wishes if there is a strong reason for it to do so.

Examples of situations in which a child’s wishes regarding custody may be important:

  • One parent lives near a school the child particularly wants to attend for a special program of study. For example, if the father lives near a school with an award-winning music program that the child wants to attend, the court may favor primary custody for the father to further the child’s educational goals.
  • One parent lives near supportive family that may help with the care of the child. If both parents work long hours and the father lives near a supportive family member who will agree to help with caretaking, the court may consider this in awarding custody, particularly if it is obvious that the child is very attached to that family member. Children are often attached to grandparents, aunts or older siblings.
  • One parent has custody of the child’s siblings. Children often want to stay with their brothers and sisters in the event of a divorce, so the court may consider this when awarding custody.

Of course, there can be many other reasons for courts to make custody decisions. The default position is to award joint physical and legal custody to both parents, with a strong agreement in place to determine the days that the children are with each parent. In the absence of this type of agreement, the court is forced to choose a custodial parent based on the best interests of the child.

However, the myth that a child can simply say, “I want to live with Dad” or “I want to live with Mom” or even “I want to live with Grandma” at a certain age actually has no basis in fact.

If you are facing a child custody issue, please contact the Men’s Legal Center immediately. We can help you with your child custody and divorce issues.

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