One common misconception in child custody hearings is that the child will get to decide, at least at some point, the parent with whom they choose to live. While this choice is taken into consideration around the age of 12 or 13, depending on their level of maturity, this, in itself, is not enough to make this determination. Instead, there are 12 factors examined by the Court in determining custody and parenting time.
The factors that are taken into consideration when making this decision are called Best Interest Factors. These outline facets of a child’s wellbeing and care that help guide the court in deciding parenting time and residency that will best serve the child. Examples include special needs, the willingness of the parent to provide ongoing care, and their willingness to cooperate with each other.
Only one of those twelve factors considers the preference of the child, so the child does not have the ability to dictate parenting time. An example of why this is would be if a child does not like having to do their homework as required at one parent’s house, so they then choose to go live with the other parent. Parents could then court for the favor of a child to have more parenting time. By instead having 12 factors in place to determine the custodial parent, the wellbeing of the child can be best determined without conflicting parental interests influencing the decision of the child.
In sum, though a child’s preference does carry some weight, other factors are also considered in a holistic approach to ensure the child’s wellbeing. The goal is to make sure children are in the best place to learn, develop, and be nurtured to become healthy contributing adults. The short answer to when a child can make the decision of which parent is their choice for residency is never, and for the child’s sake, that is a good thing.