How old must a child be before the judge will let him (or her) choose which parent to live with? This is a really popular question among divorcing parents in Florida. As a divorce lawyer, I often wonder what prompts this question. At what age can your child specify where to live …
Here’s the answer – there is no specific age at which a child can choose which parent to live with.
That means your child will not be permitted to specify a preference in your family law case. Instead, if parents cannot agree on timesharing (custody) the court will look at the child’s best interest, according to the factors found in Florida law.
Choose the Parent – Who Is Right?
The fact is that divorce courts are concerned with parents’ rights because the parents are parties to the case. On top of that, children and legally “incompetent” and cannot be parties to a case. And most of all, judges do not want to make these decisions. They prefer that parents, who have the most knowledge about the children and the specifics of the family situation, make the decision of which parent a child lives with.
The frequency with which this question is asked makes it clear that many parents have a preconceived idea that kids should or ought to be permitted to choose a residential parent once reaching a certain age (usually between 12 and 14). There is no magical age, although some courts do allow the child’s preference to be considered. That’s how it works in Florida. The child’s preference – taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child – is one of the factors a court may consider.
Testifying in Court
What makes me wonder about the question is whether you expect your child to appear in court and tell the judge. In Florida, the policy is to not permit children to testify in court. There is good reason for this policy against child testimony: it is bad for the kids. Children should not be made to voice which parent is preferred or choose between parents.
Most children realize that they are made up of both parents. If one parent is “bad” that means half of the child is bad too. It is not a good message to send your children. When children have been told that one parent is “bad” here is what can happen:
i really REALLY do not want to live with my dad because i feel like he isnt even my father. he isnt and has never been a good parent. and i just want to live with my mom. im afraid if i choose to live with my mom, that he will try to take my little sister away from my mother and make her stay with him. i just want for me and my little sister to live with my mom. my parents both live in the same state in the same area. im fourteen years old so if anyone has any advice or if they can help that would be great.
This 14 year old child is searching for legal answers to adult issues. Every case depends on the specific facts and the family’s overall circumstances will matter as much – or more- than the child’s preference in choosing which parent to live with.
The bottom line for Florida parents is that the child’s preference is one of the factors but your children are not likely to be permitted to come to court to tell the judge which parent they choose to live with.