As a family law attorney I am frequently asked two questions.
“At what age can a child choose which parent they want to live with?” and “At what age can a child decide they do not want to have visits with a parent?”
What age can a child choose?
Texas family law provides NO age where a child can make these decisions for himself or herself. A few years ago, a child of a certain age could designate to the court which parent that child wanted to primarily live with, but it was never binding on the judge; the family law judge could, however, carefully consider the desires of a child.
When that law was abolished, it was replaced by one that allowed a party (not the child) to request that the judge interview the child. If the child was 12 years old or older, then the judge had to take the interview. If the child was younger than 12, the judge could interview the child at the judge’s discretion.
A parent should under stand a few things before asking a family courts judge to interview the child:
- Judges, for the most part, do not like to do so. Some will do it, but most do not like the idea of putting the child on the spot. I have heard at least one judge comment that doing so could be considered a form of child abuse. Your judge might not think highly of your parenting skills if you put the child in the situation of having to choose between his or her parents.
- Judge’s recognize that some parents manipulate the child and try to alienate the child from the other parent. In the interview that judge might be more interested in that than the child’s desires.
- Your child might be telling you one thing and telling the other parent the opposite. Back when a child could provide a designation, it was not uncommon for a child to give each parent a designation to live with that parent. The child wants to please both parents.
- The judge may be unlikely to ask the child who the child wants to live with. The judge will ask the child what he or she does, how’s school, tell me about your typical day and a lot of other things not directly requiring the child to make a decision. The judge can then consider the circumstances of the child and make the decision.
- Judges are frequently suspicious, as they probably should be, that the child is either being bribed or threatened to make a certain decision. If the judge gets the idea that the requesting parent is not letting the child have a free hand in the decision, then the judge will not be likely to want that parent to be the one with the most influence over the child.
Obviously, making such a request could backfire on a parent. Most family law attorneys and judges believe that the child should not be brought into litigation between the parents. The child is, after all, a child.
That being said, the older that a child is, the more likely that a judge will listen to the child’s desires. I have rarely seen a judge make a 17 year old have the same restrictions as a younger child. Texas Family Code does not provide that it is ever the child’s choice.
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