Divorce is difficult enough for children, but even more so when they are the subject of disputes. While their parents may have clashing opinions regarding custody, the child may also have their own thoughts. If the child is mature enough to form an opinion, the judge may consider their preferences.
At what age is the child considered mature?
The age guidelines differ by state; however, most do not specify an age. Mississippi, for example, permits children aged twelve and above to express their opinions to the court. In states with no specified age, such as Alabama, it is up to the court to decide.
When will a judge consider the child’s preference?
Courts and judges will be more likely to consider a dependent’s opinion if the child is older and is able to defend their choice rationally. There are many reasons why a child would choose to live with one parent over the other, some of which can be a significant factor in the final custody decision. For example, if the child has witnessed one parent being violent or abusing substances, that may impact that parent’s chances of earning custody.
Even if the child prefers one parent, the judge could overrule their choice. Several variables will be examined, like the child’s relationship with each parent, but the child’s best interests will always be central to the court’s decision.
How will the child express their opinion?
Divorce hearings can be an extremely emotional and stressful experience; therefore, most courts discourage children from participating.
Instead of testifying in court, the judge will interview the child privately alongside a reporter and legal representative. At times, the parent’s lawyers can also attend, but not the parents themselves.
Every parent wants the best for their child. If you have further questions regarding how a child’s preferences might affect custody decisions, seek legal advice from an experienced family law attorney.