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At age 16 can a child decide?

Spokane, WA |

My daughters mother and i were never married. At age 16 can my daughter decide who and where she wants to leave? Dose one parent have more rights then another?

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Attorney answers 3


The court will decide what is in the best interest of the child

There is no magic age when children get to decide visitation. The best interest of the child is the standard.

The law regarding a child's 'right'* to choose is a matter for each State and jurisdiction. The judge in most States, not the child, makes the decision based on the best interest of the child. Although not a standard by any means, many States have begun to give 'consideration' to a child's declaration of custodial preference when the child reaches the age of twelve or thirteen, sometimes fourteen. There are even cases when children of age 9 are allowed to testify.

The judge is normally given almost unlimited latitude in whether or not she or he listens to a child and how much weight to give to the child's wishes. In short, there is no specific "age" but the younger the child the less likely for a judge to give the stated preference much weight.

Good luck to you.

NOTE: This answer is made available by the out-of-state lawyer for educational purposes only. By using or participating in this site you understand that there is no attorney client privilege between you and the attorney responding. This site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed WI professional attorney that practices in the subject practice discipline and with whom you have an atttorney client relationship along with all the privileges that relationship provides. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The information and materials provided are general in nature, and may not apply to a specific factual or legal circumstance described in the question.


A child can decide anything any time she wants. The problem lies in that neither the judge nor her parents have to go with her decision.

In WA, the preference of a child as to her residential placement is one of the many factors the judge considers in deciding the child's parenting plan. There is no law that the judge must abide by the decision of a minor.

You wrote that you and the mother "were never married." You did not write that there is any court order regarding the child. If there is no court order or other legal document showing that you are the child's legal parent, you have no parental right yet. You likely would need to first petition the court to determine that you are a legal parent of the child.

You also did not write in which state the daughter is living. Each state has its own family laws. So, where the child is living is very important.

In WA, unless there is a court order restricting a parent's parental right, both parents have equal rights to the child.

The use of unlawful drugs by a parent is a major factor when the court considers where to place the child.

What you should do is review your specific facts with attorneys in the state where the child is living.


Legally, a child never gets to decide in Washington where he/she resides, unless she becomes emancipated. Practically, many parents do not want to live with a teenager who does not want to live with them.

There are ways in which the preference of your daughter might be considered by the court.

Your "rights" vs. the Mother's "rights" are dependent on a number of things. Is there a parenting plan? If yes, much of what your "rights" are, are set forth there. If not, I suggest petitioning the court for a parenting plan is the best way to establish your "rights," Good luck.

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