At What Age Do Children Get To Decide Where They Live?

Monday, December 19, 2011

    One of the most common questions that divorced or divorcing parents ask is, “At what age do my children get to decide where they want to live, or who they want to live with?”

    The short answer is, at age 18.

    Another common question is, “At what age do my children get to tell the judge where they want to live, or who they want to live with?”

    For practical purposes, the answer often still is, at age 18.

    Before age 18, children can, upon occasion, testify in court about a variety of matters.

    Often, it can be counter productive to place a child on the witness stand.  Putting a child in the position of having to choose between his or her parents is generally thought to be harmful to the child.  In most situations, the parent who puts his or her child in this position does not advance his or her cause nearly as much as they might hope.  Indeed, many people feel that by putting a child in this position, a parent is not acting in the best interests of the child.  And, of course, acting in the child’s best interests is a primary factor in determining who gets custody, or how much parenting time (visitation) a parent is awarded.

    It is usually better to find other ways to get the facts before a judge.

    Friends and neighbors and others who are close to the child can testify to what they have seen of the interactions between the child and one or both parents.

    Often the best way for the child’s voice to be heard, without putting the child on the witness stand, is to hire an expert to evaluate the situation, and to testify as to his or her conclusions, and the reasoning behind these conclusions.

    An expert, such as a custody evaluator, is someone with special knowledge or training in the area.  As an expert, such a witness is able to explain the basis for his or her expert opinion.  While it would be hearsay for an ordinary witness to say, “The child told me ...,” it is often appropriate for an expert witness such as a custody evaluator to testify that, “My opinion is ...., and the basis for this opinion includes the following.....”.  A part of the basis for this expert opinion could be things that they have learned from the child.