When Do Children Have a Say in Custody Decisions?

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If you’ve ever seen the movie, Kramer v Kramer, you may be under the impression that the courts will ask children which parent they’d rather live with. In real life, this doesn’t happen all that often.

Judges never want to put kids in a position where they have to choose one parent over the other. This can be traumatic for a child. It can also cause long-term developmental issues.

No child wants to get on the stand and speak poorly about their mom or dad. Even if they feel a certain way, very few want to have to do this in open court. Judges understand this. They also look poorly on a parent who would put their child in this position.

But there are times when interviewing the kids is the only way to really find out what is in the best interests of the children. However, this is rarely done in open court. It’s usually done through counselors and other professionals.

If you truly think you need your children to make a statement about which parent they want to live with, you should speak with your Houston family law attorney. This is a very touchy subject and you need to be really careful before you suggest this to the court.

What is the Law Regarding Children Testifying About Custody Issues?

Texas used to have a law that allowed children aged 12 or older to sign a form stating which parent they wanted to live with. This is no longer allowed. While a judge may certainly meet with a child to determine their wishes, it is done differently today than it was years ago.

If a child is at least 12 years old, they can ask to meet with the judge to talk about custody. This almost always takes place in the judge’s office or chambers. Very rarely does it take place in open court. The judge wouldn’t want to subject a child to this kind of scrutiny.

When the judge does meet with your child, they can ask which parent they’d rather live with. However, the judge is under no obligation to grant the child’s wishes. Even if a child says they want to live with mom, the judge won’t grant this if they don’t think it’s in the child’s best interests.

The judge will take the child’s wishes into consideration when deciding custody. However, the courts are not going to allow a 12-year old child to dictate custody issues.

What Factors Will the Judge Consider?

Regardless of who is interviewing the child regarding their custody choice, the judge is going to consider several factors. Given the fact that the child may be as young as 12, the judge is not required to abide by the child’s wishes. A child this age is not capable of making this kind of decision on their own.

Some of the things the court will take into account include:

  • The age of the child
  • The motivation behind their choice
  • The reasons provided for why they’d prefer to live with one parent over the other
  • The child’s intelligence
  • The maturity of the child

Even if the judge thinks the child is wise beyond their years, they still have to look out for what’s in the child’s best interests.

For example, let’s say a 14-year old child says they want to live with their father. When asked why, they say their father lets them stay home school when they don’t feel like going. They also admit they have no curfew when they sleep at their dad’s house. These are not only insufficient to justify the child’s choice, but they actually support the decision for the child to live with their mother.

If you believe your child would prefer to live with you, be careful. Parents aren’t allowed in the room while your child is being interviewed. Your child may be telling each parent what they think they want to hear. You have no idea what your child will tell the judge in closed chambers. It could hurt your custody case rather than help it.

Contact an Experienced Family Lawyer if You’re Having Custody Issues

If you’re having custody issues, you’ll want to call and experienced family law attorney in Houston, Texas. Your lawyer can help guide you through the custody process. They can also try to negotiate a custody arrangement that is fair.

Call Eddington & Worley today and schedule your initial consultation. This is too important a decision to handle on your own.