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How old does a child have to be to decide which parent he whats to live with?

Winter Haven, FL |
Attorney answers 3


Difinitively, age 18 when the person is legally an adult. But a court must take into consideration the wishes of a child 12 year and older. I said "take into consideration" not abide by or honor. The court's primary purpose is doing what is "in the best interests of the child." All things being equal between each parent as the so-called primary parent, then the court may well consider the child's wishes. But what if the parent the child wants to live with is an alcoholic, drug addict, or has other issues. Do you think the court should turn the child over to that parent just because the child wants to live with him or her.

Having said all of that, it becomes very difficult for a court to enforce its order of custody on a child who, at say 16 or 17, refuses to live with the appointed parent. The judge can hold the one parent in contempt for encouraging the child, if that is what the parent is doing, but it is not going to old the child in contempt. Court's run into real problems when the child becomes or threatens to become a runaway if he or she has to continue living with the court appointed parent.

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It is not up to the child. The court will take a child's wishes into consideration, but the child's wishes are in no way controlling.

THESE COMMENTS ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE. They are provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. Answering this question does not create an attorney-client relationship or otherwise require further consultation.


I agree that the age is definitely 18, however, i don't believe that there is an age where the court has to listen to the child's preference before the court makes a finding about the child's maturity, intelligence etc. I have seen some judges who just won't talk to the children, regardless of what age they are. That leaves the parent who wants to bring in the wishes of the child in a position where that parent has to engage the services of an expert to bring in the child's wishes. Otherwise, that information is very unlikely to come in at all. On the other hand, I have seen judges who talked to 4 year old children. It's hard to tell. For the most part, i have seen more judges disallow that than the other way around. The easiest way to deal with that is to participate in mediation, as this is the most informal forum to discuss openly what is going on with the child.

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