You’re getting divorced, and you want to focus on the best interests of your children. A big part of that means finding them the ideal custody solution. You’re willing to do whatever it takes. Yes, you want to protect your own rights to see the kids, but you also want to make sure they’re happy with that situation.
If you have young children, in elementary school or younger, they probably will not have much say in the matter. They’re too young to really prefer anything or understand what is in their own best interests. You, your ex and the court will have to decide it for them.
But what if your children are older? What if they’re teens? Then can they pick where they want to live?
The legal side
Let’s start with the legal side. Technically, no, the children do not have this legal right. It’s not up to them. As long as the kids are minors — even at age 17 — they don’t have a legal right to choose which parent to live with and the court does not have to go along with what they say. If the court wants you and your ex to have time with the child, for instance, but the child just wants to live with you, the court can still order them to spend time with your ex.
The practical side
In a realistic sense, though, the court understands that the child has preferences and will feel happiest when those preferences are honored. As such, they will take an older child’s opinion into account. They’ll consider it and use it as one thing that helps create the custody arrangement.
It’s not the only thing. They also consider your parental rights, your ability to raise the child, what you and your ex want, and a host of other factors. They don’t just go along with what your child requests. But, at that age, they will consider it and may let the agreement give the child some of what they want.
For instance, if your child says they want to live with you all of the time, the court may not split time 50/50 between you and your ex. They could allow the child to consistently live with you during the week, giving them some routine and stability, but still allow them to live with your ex on the weekends or for short time periods. Your ex could also get visitation rights to see your child, even when they live with you.
These situations can get complicated, especially when you and your ex do not agree on exactly what you want. Be sure you know what your rights are and what steps to take.