Legal age for child to make a choice?

In California, what is the legal age for a child to be able to choose witch parent they want to live with?

Asked on June 11, 2009 under Family Law, California


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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

There is no legal age for a minor to make such a choice.  Until they are 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. 

However, just because a child expresses that they want to live with a certain parent does not mean that it will happen.  The courts look at the best interests of the child.  More specifically, in modifying child custody the court will ask such things as:

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?

As a general rule, courts do not like to undo child custody arrangements.  More than likely a custodial parent won't loose their rights unless the court finds them to be an unfit parent;  however the non-custodial parent may be allowed increased visitation.

N. K., Member, Iowa and Illinois Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

There is no legal age since the court determines that based on the child's best interest.

However, as a child gets older, the court may be willing to listen to the child regarding what parent he/she would prefer living with. The court would listen to the reasons given and make a determination. For example, if the current living conditions pose a threat to the child, the court may be willing to allow the child to live with the other parent.

The older the child is, say 12 years old or older, the more willing the court will be to listen to a child's request to live with another parent.

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