Ideally, couples who divorce will put aside their differences so that they can develop an effective, cooperative co-parenting relationship.
But, what if that isn’t possible? Can your child pick where they want to live and which parent gets primary physical custody?
Contrary to rumor, that’s not how things work
You may have heard that your child has the “right” to pick where they live once they turn 13, 14 or 15 years of age – but that’s just a myth. In reality, there’s no “magic age” in New York that permits a child to decide which parent they prefer to live with. The court retains the authority to make that decision until the child turns 18.
However, that doesn’t mean that a child’s opinion on the issue won’t be taken into consideration. Family court judges are obligated to always consider the best interests of the child in any custody situation, and that requires looking at many different factors.
One of those factors is what the child wants, and another is the nature of the child’s relationships with the rest of their family, including their brothers, sisters, stepparents and others in their household. If a child is capable of articulating reasonable arguments about where they should live, the judge may give their feelings significant weight.
Even then, the child’s opinions are only part of the equation. The court also has to consider each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s emotional and physical needs and their overall physical and mental health. The court can also take into account each parent’s work schedules, care plans and the depth of their involvement in the child’s life up to that point – among other things.
In other words, the court has to take the whole picture into account, and most judges are keenly aware of the fact that a child’s wants and what’s actually in their best interests aren’t always the same.
If you’re struggling with a custody issue, don’t let what you hear from other people make you afraid. The unique facts of every case ultimately drive the outcome of family law cases. Seeking knowledgeable legal guidance can help you better understand what’s likely to happen in your situation.