At What Age Do Kids Get to Decide Which Parent to Live With?

There is no specific age under California law, at which children automatically have the power to determine their own custody and/or visitation arrangements. However, California law specifically addresses the decision-making power and input that children have when involved in a child custody or visitation dispute. As is the case in many states, California allows children’s opinions about their custody or visitation to be heard in certain circumstances, and gives particular weight to the opinions and wishes of children who are ages 14 and older. This provision is based on the theory that a child who is age 14 or older has the emotional maturity to articulate an intelligent opinion on important issues such as custody and visitation.

California Family Code 3402 states that so long as a child is of a sufficient age and capacity to form an intelligent preference about custody or visitation, the court should consider and give due weight to the child’s wishes. Additionally, California law permits a child who is age 14 or older to address the court about custody or visitation, unless the court specifically determines that it would not be in the child’s best interest to do so.

This doesn’t mean, however, that a child who is 14 or older simply gets to decide his or her own custody and visitation arrangements. Particularly if the court determines that the child is not being sincere and is simply trying to play one parent against the other, the court is not required to follow the child’s wishes. For example, if a child expresses that she does not wish to visit with her father, the court has the clear discretion to still order visitation and perhaps order family counseling to address the problem.

If a child wants to express his or her feelings to the judge about custody and visitation, there are various ways that he or she can do so. For instance, the child can participate in mediation proceedings, talk directly to the judge hearing the case, or even speak indirectly through a counselor or child custody evaluator.

While reaching an agreement is always preferable, there are circumstances where an agreement on child custody issues is simply is not possible. It is these kinds of cases in which a child custody and visitation lawyer can be most effective, and truly make a different in your child’s life. Call the Law Offices of Vincent W. Davis & Associates at 888.888.6582 and schedule a consultation today.