Custody issues are among the most troubling for divorcing parents, and that issue can get a lot more complicated when the child in question has strong opinions about the situation.
In Pennsylvania, minors do not have the legal authority – at any age – to choose which parent they will live with in the event of a divorce. Instead, the court may take into account the child’s “well-reasoned” preferences, based on their “maturity and judgment” as it considers a number of other factors.
What exactly does that mean?
Essentially, there’s no minimum age at which point the court will or won’t hear the child’s wishes. However, the court is more likely to consider the child’s preferences when:
- The child is of sufficient age to clearly articulate their feelings on the issue. That means that a teenager’s opinions may have more weight than, for example, a pre-teen’s statements.
- The child can articulate their reasoning. That means that a child who simply says they “like being at mom’s house more” than they do at their other parent’s home may not heavily influence the court. However, a child who says that they prefer to live with their mother because that would allow them to finish high school without transferring (while moving in with their father would require a change in schools), may see their wishes prevail.
- The child’s reasoning seems sound. Children, even teenagers, can be impulsive and short-sighted, so the court may inquire carefully into the logic behind a child’s request. The more mature the reasoning, the more weight it may carry.
Ultimately, the court’s primary concern in custody cases is the best interests of the child, regardless of the child’s wishes.
Parents may be able to reach a custody agreement outside of court through mediation or negotiation, but if they cannot, the court will make a custody determination based on the evidence presented in court – and the results may or may not reflect the child’s preferences.
When there’s a lot at stake, including your child’s safety and future, seeking experienced legal guidance can help you understand what will and won’t factor the heaviest into the court’s decisions.