Child custody and access is a highly complicated area of law. A prevalent issue raised in this area is the question of whether a child can decide which parent he or she wants to live with. According to one lawyer, this is one of the most common questions asked in a custody case; unfortunately, it is also a question without a clear-cut answer.
At What Age Can a Child Legally Decide Which Parent to Live With?
While the decision of where a child should live is ultimately in the hands of the judge deciding the case, the child’s wishes can have an impact. This is especially true if the child is in his or her teenage years. But the weight given to the child’s personal preferences will vary from case to case.
Generally, the court will give more and more weight to the child’s wishes as he or she grows older. This is not just a matter of the child’s maturity, but of practicality as well; the older a child gets, the harder it is for the court to enforce undesirable living arrangements upon them.
In Taylor v Taylor (1989), the judge noted that, “It is probably futile to ignore the wishes of an older child in his or her mid-teens, who is determined to live with a parent of his or her own choice.” Another Ontario judge echoed this view years later in Goodman v Browne (2003), writing that, “It has often been said that children ‘vote with their feet’.”
In other words, there comes a point at which a child is old enough to pack their things and move out on their own, whether the custodial parent (or the court) likes it or not. While a teenager’s wishes are not the sole determinant of the court’s decision, it will invariably have an impact.
When Should Parents Let the Child Decide Which Parent to Live With?
What if the parents aren’t contesting custody? In that case, should the child decide who to live with?
Tracy Miller, Kitchener’s best family lawyer, has written on this subject on her blog. Having seen dozens of custody cases through the years, she has observed the potential pitfalls of allowing children to make the call on where to live.
“The responsibility should not be forced onto a child – they shouldn’t have to live with their decision of picking one parent over the other,” she writes. Letting children decide puts them in a position where they have to pick sides between parents, which can be very harmful to their mental health and well-being.
Miller also reminds us that children often tell their parents what they want to hear, fearing that the same kind of conflict that arose between parents will also befall the parent-child relationship.
As said in the beginning, there is no simple answer to the question of when children get to decide where to live. I highly recommend Miller’s firm KW Law for legal advice related to child custody issues. Even if your case is not headed to court, it is enormously helpful to receive sound advice from an experienced source.