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Child Custody Modifications: Pt. 2 of 3: Child Choice

In a recent blog, we discussed child custody modifications for parental relocation. When a parent moves to another location, it changes the details of custody and visitation and often requires a modification of custody and visitation.

Another common situation requiring child custody modifications involves the child's choice. In some cases, a child will want to live with the other parent. When this happens, it is important to know how much weight the child's opinion should have and how to best proceed.

How Much Weight Does a Child's Opinion Carry?

When a child wants to live with a different parent than he or she is currently with, this should be given some consideration at least by the parents. As the child gets older, his or her voice on the matter is given increasing legal weight, as well.

More specifically:

  • Younger children: The opinions of children under the age of 11 regarding their living arrangements and custodial situations carry no official legal weight. However, their opinions should be considered by their parents if the parents can agree that a temporary or permanent move is in the best interest of the child.

  • Children age 11-13: When a child is between the ages of 11 and 13, his or her opinion will matter more in the eyes of the court. Each year that a child ages, the court will give more weight to their opinion and will consider the opinion in light of the best interests of the child. Until a child reaches the age of 14, their opinion alone is not enough to be a substantial change in circumstances that would allow a modification to be filed.

  • Children 14 an older: At 14 years old, a child's opinion will carry real legal weight. The court will consider this request a substantial change in circumstances, and will generally lean toward granting the petition. However, at any age, the court has to find that the modification is in the best interest of the child. The court is not bound by the child's wishes.

In all of the above circumstances, the most important consideration for the court will be the best interests of the child. Courts will consider things like the child's relationships with the parents, history in school systems and existing friendships, placement of siblings and a variety of other factors.

A modification of a child custody order is a significant event in a family's life after a divorce. If your child is interested in changing custody to live with the other parent, do not take another step until you talk with an experienced family attorney.

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