A Child's Custody Preference in California

When it comes to divorce, child custody can be one of the hardest things for parents to deal with, especially if the parents cannot agree on where the children will live. In fact, concerns over child custody can even keep a deeply unhappy spouse stuck in a miserable marriage.

If you anticipate a child custody battle ahead and you have an older child, you may be thinking that a child who is 12, 13, or 14 has the legal right to choose which parent to live with. Is this common belief true, or is it a misconception? It’s a mix of both.

Best Interests of the Child Doctrine

The State of California does not have a set age where the family courts are required to consider a child’s preference regarding child custody. The law does however, require a judge to listen to the wishes of a child who is mature enough to voice their opinion on the matter. As parents of multiple children know, youngsters mature differently; therefore, an eight-year-old’s wishes may be given the same weight as a sixteen-year-old’s wishes, providing the child was mature enough.

In any case, the court is expected to make a decision that is in the best interests of the child considering all relevant factors and kids don’t always get what they want. For instance,

just because a fifteen-year-old boy wants to move in with his father because he promised the boy a brand-new sports car for his sixteenth birthday, it doesn’t mean the father is the better choice.

Conversely, a ten-year-old boy may say that he prefers to stay with his father because his mom’s live-in boyfriend is on parole for a violent crime and verbally abuses him. In such a situation, the judge may award custody to the boy’s father if he has the capability to care for his son the majority of the time.

Is a child’s wishes important in a Ventura or LA County child custody case? Yes, absolutely and the older and more mature the child, the more weight will be given to the child’s preference. However, the ultimate decision-maker is always the judge, not the child and that is something that parents should be aware of.

Related: Can I Move Away With My Kids?