Some parents worry that their children will want to live with their ex after a divorce. If you’re thinking of ending your marriage, you may be concerned that this would lead to a loss of connection with your child. You want to share custody with your ex, but you’re afraid that your child will choose to live there instead of spending any time with you.
Is this a valid fear that you should have? Does your child get to choose where they live, or is the court going to do that for them in the event that you and your ex can’t reach mutually-agreeable custody terms without judicial intervention?
It may depend on their age
Children are sometimes given a chance to tell the court where they would like to live. The court may listen to this request and consider it as one factor in a complex, contested case. But the child has to be old enough for the court to deem this to be reasonable. Young children may not fully grasp the situation. Additionally, the court is trying to operate with the child’s best interests in mind. It is very possible that a young child may have strong preferences that are not actually aligned with their own best interests – they just don’t realize it.
But this is also why the court will give older children more of a chance to express their wishes, and it may take them more seriously. There’s a big difference between a five-year-old who doesn’t understand what sole custody would mean and a 17-year-old who simply wants to live with a specific parent until they graduate from high school and go to college a year later.
But even when a child is given the ability to talk to the court about where they want to live, they are still not making that decision independently. The court will consider other factors – parental roles, criminal records, living situations, etc. – along with the request. The court may adhere to the child’s wishes, but it may not.
Determining child custody
While it may be important to include your child in this process, you typically do not have to worry that they can decide where they want to live without any other input. Make sure you understand all of your rights as a parent and what legal options you have during divorce by seeking legal guidance proactively so that you can make truly informed decisions about your circumstances.