Can children choose where to live when their parents divorce?

On Behalf of | Jun 24, 2024 | Child Custody

When parents of minor children decide to divorce, they need to address many family issues. They either negotiate with each other or litigate in family court. Custody matters are often very emotional, which can derail attempts to amicably resolve issues. Parents may find themselves fighting over both parenting time and the authority to make decisions about their children’s upbringing. If parents cannot settle the disputes on their own, then they may need to take the issue to family court.

Washington family law judges have to focus on what is best for the children when making custody decisions for families. Can children determine on their own behalf where they want to live when their parents divorce?

The courts may consider a child’s preferences

Contrary to what many people believe, there is no set age at which a child suddenly gets to determine which parents they live with for the majority of the time. Instead, judges need to explore a child’s preferences, including the reason behind them making a particular decision.

The child’s overall maturity and the rationale behind their request largely influence how much weight a judge assigns to a child’s wishes in a custody case. For example, if a 16-year-old prefers to live with a parent who allows them unlimited technology access, a judge may give that preference minimal consideration.

However, if a 13-year-old reports verbal abuse from one parent, a judge may consider that carefully when deciding how to allocate residential time between the two parents. The child’s wishes don’t necessarily determine the custody arrangements but merely guide the judge’s decision. The judge has to consider a host of other factors in addition to the stated preferences of the child.

Those who have had a difficult relationship with their children in recent months don’t have to worry about their children icing them out of their lives. Judges are likely to push for shared parenting time because they view that as being in the best interests of the children.

Understanding how Washington handles contested custody matters can help parents feel more confident as they prepare for divorce. A child’s wishes are only one of many considerations that ultimately determine how parenting time is divided.