Old Enough to Choose

Divorce is never an easy process. There are many issues to consider and stress to decide whether it is worth pursuing. There are many people involved including children, siblings, elder parents and family members who may be residing in the same household or may be required to help provide child care for children. The stakes are much higher when the parties are unable to agree on a parenting plan or visitation schedule especially when young children are involved.

When parents are considering a divorce, one of the first questions they have concerning children is, “What age can my child decide what parent he or she wants to live with?”

While on the surface it’s a simple question, the complexities of the answer will affect everyone involved.

In the case of a divorce, the court takes into consideration every possible factor, including the child’s preference for custody. However, it’s key to remember that the court’s main goal is the “overall best interest of the child.” And not the best wishes or intentions of the parents.

In many cases, the courts treat the minor children as too immature or incompetent to know what is in their best interest, which means the court does not recognize them when it comes to making decisions.

This means that there is no magic number or specific age when a minor can decide which parent to live with. Instead, it’s up to the judge or the court to decide the best course of action.

Remember that the courts and judges do not necessarily want to make these decisions because they don’t know every detail of a family’s dynamics. In addition, the court would want to leave this decision to the mother and father. Each case is fact specific and there is no magic formula. The judges make it clear to both parents to attempt to set aside any anger or animosity they have for one another and attempt to reach a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the minor children. This is very difficult. However, the court is quick to point out that is always in the parents best interest to decide compared to relying upon a complete stranger (the judge) to make a final decision that may not be in anyone’s best interest or work within the confines of either parties work schedules.

While there is no magic number, it’s correct to say that the older the child, the more impact he or she will have on the judge or the court. Forcing a child to remain in a situation where he or she clearly does not want to be is what the court is trying to avoid.

When making this kind of decision, the judge will review a wide range of criteria, some of which are listed here. As always, check with your lawyer when discussing this subject.

What is the environment like in each situation?
Is one parent or the other swaying the child?
Will the move negatively affect other family members?
Does the child show maturity and intellectual development?
How stable is the parent the child wants to be with?

Divorce is a complicated process, and when children are involved, the process becomes even more complex. The judge and the court are charged by the law to ensure that children receive the very best care and are raised in the correct environment.

Discuss the facts with your divorce lawyer, and don’t forget that custody of your children brings with it a great amount of commitment. In the end, the decision will have lasting effects on everyone involved.

About Maryland Family Law
General information and commentary on child custody, support, divorce, separation, Pre Nuptial, Post Nuptial agreements and child visitation

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