During custody disputes, parents often ask a child what he or she wants when it comes to deciding with which parent a child will live.
Understandably, parents often want to know what a child wants, but it is important to recognize if and to what extent a child’s preference matters in court.
Can a child decide?
If your child is at least 12 years old, a judge can interview them to determine where they want to live, per Texas state laws. However, the courts are under no obligation to abide by that preference. Judges take numerous additional factors into account before awarding custody, from a parent’s health to where a child will be safest.
That said, a child with a well-reasoned preference is not an insignificant factor. Courts want to do what is in the best interests of the child. Therefore, if a child says that living with Mom or Dad would make them happiest, that can be a persuasive statement.
If a child changes his or her preference at some point, courts must determine if a custody modification is appropriate. A child should not just start living with the other parent, which can put parents in violation of their custody order.
How can parents help?
As a parent, you have a responsibility to help your child understand what is going on, and this means explaining why a custody arrangement may not be exactly what the child wants.
You may need to talk about why they should spend time with both parents, even though they prefer one parent over the other. You could explain that other arrangements are not safe or healthy right now.
Parents should also refrain from attempting to turn their child against the other parent unfairly. Doing so could result in parental alienation allegations, which can have devastating effects on a child and the relationships he or she has with each parent.
Your child may very well have a preference in a custody dispute. However, in this state, children do not get to decide custody. However, parents can work together to find an arrangement everyone can be happy with.