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At What Age Does My Child Get to Decide?

I recently posted about children testifying in court. This goes hand in hand with one of the most common questions I am asked which is at what age does my child get to decide where he or she wants to live?

This question always irritates me. I understand that there is a perception that at a certain age a child has an absolute right to pick who they want to live with. However, this simply isn’t true. Your child, so long as he or she is under age 18 will never get to decide. You are the parents and the two of you must be parents and you must make this decision or the judge (whom you don’t know) will decide one of the most important decisions in your child’s life for you and for him or her.

Now, that being said older children’s testimony regarding their wishes is given much more weight than younger children. In particular, older children (over 13) who can express very clearly why they want to live with one parent over the other will be heard. Furthermore, when a child appears to be sincere and not coached by one parent over the other we would all agree that this child deserves to be heard.

All of this being said keep in mind that not all judges will agree to interview a child in chambers outside the hearing of either parent. Many judges believe that if a child is old enough to be interviewed then whatever he or she has to say can be said in front of both parents. If you are making your case based on what your child has told you about where he or she wants to live keep in mind that your child may be forced to testify in open court in front of both of you. At any age this is a traumatic experience for your child and this is a decision that you should weigh very carefully.