At what age can a child decide which parent theywant to live with?

Asked on November 28, 2011 under Family Law, Pennsylvania


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

There is no legal age for a minor to make such a decision. Technically, until they reach age 18 the court will decide which parent they should live with. However, once a child turns 12 or so, their input is given greater weight by the court. 

Yet, just because a child expresses which parent they want to live does not mean that it will happen. The courts look at what is termed "the best interests of the child".  In making its decision the court will ask:

  • Is the child mature enough to understand the meaning of changing households and the repercussions that follow the change?
  • Can the child clearly state why they want to live with the other parent (ie are their reasons valid)?
  • Would living with the other parent drastically affect the child’s life – positively or negatively?
  • Can the non-custodial parent provide stability in the child’s life?
  • Is there an obvious benefit or long-term gain with living with the other parent?

Courts do not like to overturn child custody arrangements. So more than likely a custodial parent won't loose their rights unless the court finds them to be an unfit parent (although the non-custodial parent may be awarded more visitation).

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