“Can my child choose which parent to live with?” When a child determines custody

This is one of the most common custody questions we receive from clients. When it comes to choosing which parent to live with, the court determines custody based on the best interests of the child. However, there are times when the child’s opinion can be called upon.

It seems that many parents have the impression that the age of 14 is the time when the child determines custody. That age is generally utilized by the healthcare industry when it comes to a child’s privacy decisions; however, the same does not hold true when it comes to custody. In reality, the only time a child could determine which parent to live with would be the age of majority (18).

Whether their children are still young or getting older, parents all want to know when the child’s opinion can determine where they end up. Parents often want the child to choose instead of the courts so that their child is happy; however, the courts are not in the business of allowing children to make major decisions of this scale.

Why is this? A judge does not want to have to ask a child to make a choice. Putting that burden on a child of a young age could be very damaging. But a judge does often call upon the child’s opinion and sits down to interview the child in private about their lifestyle. This is called an in camera interview as it is outside of the courtroom and does not invite the parents to participate.

The type of questions the judge will ask during the in camera interview starts with generalized questions to open up the dialogue, i.e. sports, pets, school, etc. The judge then moves on to asking about who takes the child to activities, to the doctor, helps with homework and so forth. These questions are intended to provide the judge with a better idea of the family lifestyle and parenting. A judge will not ask a child which parent he or she would prefer to live with.

With the answers to these questions, the judge can understand which parent is best suited for primary care and primary custody of the child. Other than that, there is not hard and fast law or guideline that dictates when or if a child determines custody. This is to protect the best interests of the child and uphold the existing guidelines for making the decision.

If you are seeking a custody order or to modify an existing custody order, contact the Doylestown custody lawyers at the Law Offices of Michael Kuldiner, P.C. today, (215) 693-6191.