On a fairly regular basis I am asked by a divorced parent how old their child must be before they can choose which parent they want to live with.
Many parents tell me their child will be 12 years old, 13 years old, 14 years old soon and will be able to make their own decisions.
In general, the older they are the more their preference might be considered.
Their preferences are not usually considered in a vacuum, however.
It could be that Susie might want to live with Dad because he is more lenient in his rules…
He doesn’t make her go to church, let’s her stay out an hour later, doesn’t nag her about homework, etc.
Or the preference might be because Mom is supportive of Joey’s desire to be on the soccer team or takes him to his horseback riding lessons or is excited about the dance program he is in.
When Mom or Dad uniformly does not support a child’s activities when that activity spans the parenting time of both parents, it is not surprising to a judge that a child might have a preference.
However, children rarely know all the details of how a parent decides to do something or what both parents talk about regarding their decisions.
Sometimes the decisions are financially impacting one parent differently than the other.
The child may only know that Mom or Dad is not taking them where they want to go but not that it is not affordable.
Whatever the reason, by early to mid teens, a court is likely to take the child’s concerns into consideration in making an order while being very careful not to ask the child to make a decision and learning as much as possible about the context of that preference.
Asking a child to make a decision, even when the child believes they would like to do so, is often detrimental.