How Much Say Does a Child Have in Custody Proceedings?
One question many of our clients have is whether their child can decide which parent to live with. We understand where the question is coming from. If your child is older—say, in his teen years—then forcing him to live with a parent he doesn’t want to be with could be very difficult. At the same time, children generally aren’t able to thoroughly analyze what is in their best interest, which is the standard a judge will use to determine custody if parents cannot agree.
Under Pennsylvania law, a judge will consider who your child wants to live with, but this is only one factor in a total analysis. Our Media child custody attorneys explain more below.
How Much Weight Does a Judge Give a Child’s Preference?
This will depend on the judge and the child. Informally, we will say that some judges give more weight than others. The “best interest of the child” test used in custody battles is multi-factored and flexible. Judges aren’t told how to weigh each factor, and some might give more weight to what the child wants.
Generally, a judge considers your child’s age, maturity, and intelligence. A 16-year-old who is well spoken probably has more of an influence on the average judge than an 8-year-old who is still very much a child. However, if your teen is a delinquent who does poorly at school and is not very articulate, then a judge might discount what this child has to say.
Your child’s reasons matter, also. If your 16-year-old wants to live with his father because he lets him hang out with his friends, then a judge will not be impressed. However, if the child wants to live with Dad because the home is more stable and he is closer to extended family, then a judge might give the child’s opinion more weight.
What if My Ex Turns My Child Against Me?
This is another reason why children cannot decide for themselves where to live. Some divorces are very acrimonious, and one parent might try to poison their children’s relationship with the other. For example, if Mom is angry that Dad left her for the company secretary, she might start telling the kids Dad never loved them in the hopes that they’ll choose to live with her. Children are susceptible to what their parents tell them, so the potential for abuse is great in this area.
Pennsylvania law encourages both parents to maintain loving relationships with their children, and not letting a child decide who to live with can mitigate a parent’s attempt to alienate the children from the other parent.
If you believe your ex is trying to alienate the children from you, tell your lawyer. We can often raise this issue with the judge during child custody fights, which can work to your advantage. We also want to stop any disparaging comments being made about you, and putting your ex on notice is often a good first step.
At Barbara Flum Stein & Associates, we understand that custody battles can be emotionally draining. Based on our experience, we can help you argue forcefully for custody and maintain a strong relationship with your child. Contact one of our Media child custody attorneys today.