One of the big challenges divorcing couples can face is navigating the troubled waters of their children’s emotions and opinions about the divorce. It can be particularly difficult for parents to deal with situations where their children have preferences about which parent they want to live with after the divorce. In some cases, the preference is clear, while in other cases, it may be mixed or inconsistent.
Whatever the case may be, parents may wonder whether their children’s custody preferences can impact their parenting plan and, if so, how much?
The determination of custody
Under Washington law, judges have significant discretion to make decisions regarding custody matters, and they consider a number of factors when making these decisions. In cases where a child is old enough to be able to express a preference regarding custody, judges may take the reasonable preference of the child into consideration.
In Washington, there is no strict age threshold for when a child may express a custody preference. Naturally, the preferences of children who are older and more mature will receive greater consideration than those of children who are younger or lack maturity – and that age of maturity is generally considered to be age 12. However, courts generally prefer to keep children’s preferences out of such decisions.
As an aside, judges do not interview children regarding their maturity level and custody preferences in open court, but rather in private to avoid subjecting the child to a traumatic experience.
Children do not have the final say
So, the preferences of a child may impact a custody determination, but children certainly don’t get to pick which parent they go with. Judges have to base their custody decisions on all relevant factors, and the preferences of children are only one piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, custody determinations are about what is best for the children. In some cases, this corresponds to their preferences, while in other cases it does not.
The divorce process can be extraordinarily stressful – especially when the custody of your children is on the line. It’s important not to go through this process alone. An experienced family law attorney can help to advocate for your rights at every stage of the divorce process.