CHILD CUSTODY: MY CHILDREN WANT TO LIVE WITH ME. ARE THEY OLD ENOUGH TO DECIDE?

      This is a very common child custody question. Somewhere along the line, it became somewhat of an urban myth that children get to decide where they want to live once they reach a certain age. Many people express their belief that this age is somewhere around 12, 13 or 14 years of age. In Arizona, this is simply not true.

     Child custody is never granted solely based on what a child wants. In determining an initial legal decision making and parenting time (custody) order in a divorce or paternity action or a modification of an existing order, Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-403 lists 11 different factors a judge MUST consider in determining what is in the minor child's best interest. Arizona Revised Statutes Section 25-403(A)(4), provides that the judge must consider the wishes of the child if the child is of suitable age and maturity. So, what does this actually mean? What is a "suitable age?" The answer varies. Some judges my recognize a set age at which they consider a child old enough to have input as to where they would like to live and why. Some judges may feel that most ages are not suitable to give a child's wishes much weight, as they feel that children do not get to always call the shots. For example, if your 16 year old said they do not want to go to school, would you let them decide what's best for them - education or dropping out? Finally, some judges may first listen to facts about the child to determine the child's maturity relative to their age in determining if their wishes should be considered. If a judge determines that a child is of suitable age and maturity, the child will likely be interviewed by a qualified  individual employed independently or by the Court (not the judge). The judge will then decide the appropriate weight the child's wishes will be given when it determines what is in the best interests of the minor child. Please remember, if the child's wishes are given little to no consideration, or if they are given substantial weight, you cannot ignore the remaining 10 factors the judge must consider under the law. For good or for bad, do not hang your hat on just this one.

    To discuss your options and strategy in child custody litigation, contact the attorneys at LASITER & JACKSON, PLLC. The attorneys are highly experienced in assessing the likelihood of success in child custody cases based on the facts, the law and knowledge of the court system and its players.

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