Hannah is a family law lawyer located in Traverse City, Michigan, who handles divorce, child custody, paternity, adoption, neglect, and other family law matters, and who assists fathers and mothers to exercise their rights to custody and parenting time. At what age can a child choose which parent she wants to live with? 12 year old child can choose which parent to live with? In my experience, that seems almost, but not universally true. Technically speaking, a child has no legal ‘right to choose’. This means that they are not recognized by the court as being able make legally binding decisions, including decisions regarding their custody.
Judges and referees are third parties whose knowledge of the family dynamics and of the needs and best interests of the children are logically much more limited than should be the reasoned knowledge of Mom and Dad. But it is safe to say that in Michigan, there is no specific “age” when a child can dictate with whom she wants to live. A child custody determination is much more difficult and subtle than an arithmetical computation of factors. What reason or reasons does the child cite for wanting to change residences? Is the reason a valid one?
Is it a significant factor or issue in the child’s life? Some issues have more importance than others, such as schooling or a need for specialized medical care. How stable and reliable is the parent the child wants to live with? If that parent is unstable or unreliable the judge will not likely approve the change. The parent the child wants to live with must be as capable, as able, and as willing to care for the child as the one the child currently lives with. Does the child show social maturity and emotional and intellectual development?
Is the child’s decision or preference supported by one or both of the parents? Is the move the child requests against the wishes of either of the parents? Is there any evidence that the child has been pressured, bribed, or manipulated into requesting the move? Is there evidence that the move will really serve the child’s best interests in the long-term? Without a demonstration that a clear and significant benefit will be derived by the child from the change in residence, a judge will be unlikely to give approval. Will the move separate this child from other children in the family? Is that what is age-appropriate and otherwise appropriate for this child?