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Can a child decide which parent to live with in California?

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2023 | Child Custody

Parents may struggle to find mutually-agreeable solutions for sharing time with their children. Sometimes, one parent unreasonably demands far more time than the other. In fact, sometimes parents even use children as a means of hurting one another.

Factors ranging from someone’s employment to their previous relationship with the children can influence how the California family courts handle litigated custody issues. Parents can present evidence and provide testimony about their family circumstances to help a judge reach an appropriate conclusion in custody cases. Sometimes, the children might have their own preferences regarding the custody arrangements for the family. A child’s wishes may or may not influence the custody decision in a litigated California case.

Older children can influence a judge’s choices

Typically, judges want to make custody determinations that are in the best interests of a child, and most children lack the long-term perspective necessary to make choices that are truly beneficial for themselves. Young children, in particular, may not have the capacity to make well-rounded and informed choices.

However, teenagers often have the cognitive ability and emotional intelligence to establish and effectively express their personal preferences. California laws allow children aged 14 or older to make their preferences known during a custody dispute, and a judge can consider those wishes along with other factors would deciding on custody matters.

Typically, unless there is a very compelling reason presented, a child’s wishes will not be sufficient reason to eliminate one parent’s visitation or custody rights. However, a child’s strong preference can result in the child spending far more time with one parent than the other.

Speaking up in court can be hard on the children

Some parents want their children to make their wishes known because they believe those preferences will benefit them. Others may worry that their child could choose the other parent. Adults in both situations need to think about how the pressure to speak up in family court might affect their children.

It is common even for relatively mature teenagers to worry that voicing their preferences could do long-term damage to their relationship with the other parent. When parents are able to settle custody disagreements directly between themselves, they can potentially eliminate the need for the child to make their wishes known.

Understanding the rules that influence the outcome of custody proceedings in California and seeking legal guidance can help those who are preparing to go to family court.