Can Kids Choose Which Parent to Live With?

There's a myth about child custody that when a child reaches the age of 14 he or she can decide which parent to live with. Unfortunately, this is not true.

In many states there is a law that says that once a child reaches 14 years old, a judge shall "consider" the child's wishes in a child custody case. However, such laws do not state that the judge will honor the child's wishes.

In California, minor children do not get to "decide" which parent they will live with – that decision is up to the parents, or if the parents can't agree, it's up to the court.

The court will CONSIDER the child's wishes when making a custody decision, but only if the minor is of an appropriate age and maturity, and there's no magic number.

Judges are interested in the reasons why a child prefers one parent over the other, rather than the preference itself. The judge will be interested in the rest of the child's judgement and their decision-making abilities, as that is a direct indicator of the child's maturity.

Judge Don't Automatically Grant a Child's Wishes

There are lots of reasons why judges don't automatically grant a child's wishes about custody, including:

  • Children can choose a parent who is offering a home with no rules or extravagant gifts.
  • Children can choose to live with a parent they hardly ever see because they have a fairytale expectation of how wonderful their new life will be. Such fantasies rarely turn into reality.
  • Children can choose the parent with more money, and that's not necessarily the right decision. The idea is to put money where the children are, not putting children where there's money.

Often, what a child wants is not what he or she needs.

In child custody decisions, judges consider the children's wishes and the parents' wishes. Even when a teenager states their wishes, it is ultimately the judge who decides based on the child's best interests.