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How old do children have to be to decide where they want to live in Virginia?

Suffolk, VA |

My son is about to turn 12 and wants to come back and live with me but I am not sure of the procedures. Could you please help me? Thanks

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Attorney answers 3


As a general rule, the courts don't really start to listen to the children as to where they want to live until they're about 14-15 and that's if they are very mature for their age. That may vary from state to state, however, so check with a local attorney. Good luck.


The judge will decide. There is no magic age when children get to decide custody. 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.


Matters of custody and visitation in Virginia are determined by the "best interest" factors found at Va. Code 20-124.3.

Factor 8 says, "The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference."

So, there is no threshold age for a child to express a preference. Also, the child's preference is only 1 of 10 factors the court considers.

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