When parents divorce, decisions about where the children will live can be the most complicated and emotional. There are several factors that parents and the courts must consider before settling on any arrangement. A child’s preference could be one such factor.
Reasoned and independent preference
The law allows a child’s wishes to factor into residential provision decisions when they are mature enough to express their reasoning. However, Washington laws do not set an age for when a child under 18 is mature enough to have complete say over where they will live.
In other words, if a child is old enough to state where they wish to live and why, then the courts can consider it. But their preference alone will not dictate where the child will live. Generally, the older a child is, the more weight their wishes can carry.
Other factors to consider
When determining custody, several elements will affect where a child will live. The child’s relationship with each parent carries the most weight, but other factors include:
- Each parent’s performance of parental functions
- Whether the child has a significant connection to siblings and other close family members
- The child’s involvement in the community
- The child’s physical, emotional and developmental needs
- Any agreements the parents may have reached
- The wishes of the parents
When deciding custody, the goal is to ensure a child is in a safe, loving and supportive environment. Often, this means that a child will spend as much time with each parent as possible.
That said, there are certain situations where it is not feasible or desirable for a child to spend substantial time with one of the parents. Even if a child wants to live with them, the other factors could show that their preference does not align with what is in their best interests.
Making your case
Whether parents are negotiating custody themselves in mediation or making their case in front of a judge, it can be a mistake to assume that a child’s preference is the only thing that matters.
Parents who work with an attorney and other professionals, like child custody specialists, can better understand what makes the most sense for their specific case.