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Can a Child Choose Which Parent They Want to Live With?

If you are facing a divorce involving children – or are facing a child custody modification – you may wonder if your children will be allowed to weigh in on the matter of which parent they want to live with. If this is where you’re at, you’re not alone, and the answer – like most things that have to do with Virginia divorces – is complicated. If you have a child custody question or concern, an experienced Virginia child custody attorney is standing by to help.  

The Simple Answer is No, Your Children Can’t Choose Which Parent They Want to Live With

Many parents believe that if their children – once they have reached a certain age – simply tell the judge their preference regarding which parent to live with, it will be so. This has no basis in reality. The court is always guided by the best interests of the children in question, and because children are minors who require parental guidance, they are not considered the most valuable resource when it comes to making decisions of this magnitude. 

This being said, however, if your child is old enough and has the understanding, maturity, and wherewithal to meaningfully weigh in with a reasonable preference, the court will take the child’s preference into consideration – along with a wide range of other factors. A child’s preference is never the deciding factor, but it could help tip the balance in the court’s final decision.

Basic Age Guidelines

There are some basic guidelines that generally help Virginia courts determine when a child is old enough for his or her preference to be factored into the decision-making process surrounding child custody. Consider the following:

  • By the time children have reached the age of 14 or older, they are generally deemed old enough and mature enough to make their reasonable preferences known, 
  • If the child in question is anywhere from the age of 8 to 13 years old, the court may consider his or her preference regarding custody, but the judge will need to discern if the child’s request is reasonable in the given situation. 

Two 13-year-old children can vary considerably in terms of maturity and understanding (as can children of any age), which means that every decision regarding children’s preferences must be made on a case-by-case basis. If, however, the judge handling the case does deem the child old enough and mature enough to voice his or he preference, that preference must be factored into the decision-making process, but it will bear no special weight in relation to all the other factors that play a role. 

Reach Out to an Experienced Virginia Child Custody Attorney Today

The distinguished Virginia child custody attorneys at Mahoney Richmond Thurston, PLLC, take great pride in their proven track record of helping clients like you prevail with child custody terms that uphold their legal rights and work for them. For more information about what we can do to help you, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.