Can A Child Choose Which Parent To Live With In A Divorce?

It is an unfortunate reality that many marriages end in divorce.  If the divorce between two spouses involves children, “When does my child select which parent to live with?” is a question that many experienced attorneys are often asked during consultations.

The rules governing whether a child has genuine freedom to choose which parent to live with differs by state.  Henry & Beaver has been representing clients in Lebanon PA and surrounding counties for over 100 years and has helped many families through the difficult process of divorce.

Lawyers often learn from clients that they have heard from family or acquaintances that children may pick where they want to live when they reach a particular age.  This golden age is often thought to be between the ages of 12 and 14. Clients often think that once a child reaches one of these years, he or she has a legitimate right to choose the custody agreement they prefer. However, the question is, do children really get to decide this? 

”The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment” is only one of the factors a judge must consider in a custody case, so ultimately, the decision is not the child’s. Working with any of the experienced lawyers at Henry & Beaver, clients come to find that there is no particular age at which a child may pick between parents. The answer may be complex and is often handled on a case-by-case basis.

Each family is unique, and therefore custody will depend on that family’s circumstances.  So, the final answer as to whether or not your child may pick which parent to live with can be complex depending on the strength of your family ties and the degree to which the court or another third party is involved in your marriage split.  Children may “select” which parent to stay with, provided all decision-makers agree on the child’s future and if the agreement is compatible with the child’s preferences.

A child may seem to show more attachment to a specific person or location at any given point in that child’s development. However, in some cases, such as a child not being able to verbalize their preferences, the decision of where a child lives is handled differently. 

Parents are increasingly settling custody issues via peaceful negotiation. The experienced attorneys of Henry & Beaver can guide you through the conciliation and mediation process to establish a common ground of understanding between you and your spouse when it comes to allowing your child to choose where they want to live.  If a mediation with an attorney fails, then the issue can be settled in court by a judge.

The judge’s only responsibility is to ascertain what is in the best interest of the child. A judge’s assessment of a child’s best interests may be diametrically opposed to the child’s wishes, or even the parents’.  Children whose parents are divorcing have more than enough to stress about in addition to the fact that their parents are no longer cohabiting. Children thrive in caring, secure, and healthy settings, which is why when parents divorce, and mediation fails, it is up to the court, not the child, to determine which parent can give the child with the greatest environment.

There are several reasons why courts do not necessarily accept a child’s custody choice.  If a child chooses to live with a parent who is unfit to care for the child and provide adequate housing and cover their basic needs, that may be grounds for a judge to make a decision that does not align with a child’s choice.  The same can be said about a child choosing to live with a parent who has adequate means but may have other circumstances that a judge deems would not be in the best interest of the child.  Each case may be handled differently by a judge depending on what they decide would be in the best interest of the child.

As with many legal disputes there is no easy answer as to whether or not a child can choose which parent to live with during a divorce.  Working with the experienced lawyers at Henry & Beaver can prepare you and your family for divorce and the decisions that need to be made as a result of parents splitting up.  If you live in Lebanon PA or the surrounding counties and are going through a divorce, contact Henry & Beaver and allow us to make this difficult time in your life an easier one.