17 Jul What is Meant by a Child’s Preference When Determining Child Custody?
If a separating couple cannot come to an amicable arrangement about jointly shared dependent children they may ask the Family Court to make a decision for them. In California, as in other states, the Court decides on child custody arrangements that are ‘in the best interests of the child.’ In many cases, the personal preferences of the child or children are taken into consideration. The child’s personal preferences, however, is only one of several factors that are used to make a decision about who should look after the child and what visiting rights should be established.
Factors that are used to determine whether a court will acknowledge a child’s preference
It makes sense that courts will not seek to ask very young children about their preferences, but age is not always the best indicator of reliability when considering whether a child is capable of making an informed choice. Some 11 year olds, for example, may be more mature than some 14 year olds. It is the child’s level of maturity which tends to determine whether their views will be considered rather than their age.
Even if one or the other of the parents makes a request for their child to make their preference known to the Court, this is not necessarily taken into account. Apart from the maturity of the child, there may be other reasons why a Court may not decide to ask a child to make his or her preferences known. A child may feel threatened emotionally by having to make a choice between one parent or the other and may feel that making their preference known so openly may prejudice their relationship with the other parent.
Divorce or separation can be a confusing and frightening time for children and they may feel that they are somehow to blame for the separation. If the court decides that a child may suffer if he or she is asked to make a statement in court then this will be discounted and the court will then make a decision using other criteria.
A child’s preference may be considered later
The court may take more consideration of the child’s stated preferences some time later after the parents have been separated and the child has had sufficient experience of living and being cared for by one parent or the other as well as experience of visitation rights that were established earlier.
The reason for the Court’s intervention later on well after the initial separation and custody arrangements were decided on if one or the other parent makes a request for a modification in either the custody or the visitation rights.
Factors other than child preference that may influence the Family Court’s custody decision
As has already been mentioned, the Court will make a determination about both custody and visitation rights in the best interests of the children. This determination is unique to each family’s circumstances. It takes time for the Court to come to a final decision. If you, as a parent, are concerned about what will be decided about your child, you should voice your concerns with a knowledgeable and sympathetic Orange County family law attorney who will advise you and advocate for you on your behalf when dealing with your ex-partner as well as the Court.
You can contact a family law attorney at the Law Office of Damian M. Nolan on 562-634-1115.