When can a child choose to live with the other parent? Can a child ever choose to live with the other parent? In early February, I wrote a post about this question. Then I left for a vacation and 3 weeks went by. When I returned and looked at my Blog, there was a comment (a question) from a child (a teenager, I surmised). This child's question / comment essentially indicated that he or she felt caught in the middle. The child expressed concern about trying to make both parents happy.
By the time I answered the question, the email address for the child was no longer operational.
This is the email I wrote -- the one that bounced back. I post it now because I see that someone continues to access that question on my blog. I hope that the person who asked this question will come back to the blog in search of more information.
I am sorry that my response to your email is so late. Three weeks is a long time to wait for an answer. I was away and did not check the comments on my blog.
Here's an answer to your question.
One of the twelve "best interests of the child" factors that a judge has to consider when deciding custody is the child's preference. It seems as though you feel caught in the middle and you want to make both of your parents happy and you don't want either one to think you love the other parent more. That's a very tough spot to be in.
I don't know how old you are, but I am assuming that you are in your teens. If parents do not come to an agreement about how custody is to be handled, then there will be a hearing. During this hearing, the referee or judge will meet with you privately and talk to you about your preference. He or she will ask you which parent you would prefer to live with and what your reasons are for that perference. If you can give the judge or referee a logical reason or reasons to prefer custody with one of your parents, your preference is more likely to be given weight. A reason such as "my father is the parent who helps me with my homework and I really need his consistent help in order to keep my grades up so I can get into a good college" is more likely to be given weight than a reason such as "my mother lets me be with my friends any time I want and she lets me stay out later." It's a good idea to give serious thought to what reasons you have for preferring a particular custodial arrangement so that you are prepared for this conference with the judge.
Sometimes kids feel like they have to say that they don't have a preference to keep both parents happy. Sometimes kids feel guilty if they tell the referee or judge how they really feel -- that they really prefer one parent over the other. It's important that you know that referees and judges usually respect the child's confidential statements, and you can tell a referee or judge that you would like him or her to do so. That way, you can say what you really feel, without worrying that one of your parents will know what you've said.
Divorces can be very tough on parents and on children. You might think about talking to your school counselor about how you feel, especially if you are feeling pressured, stressed or anxious about the custody issue. Your school counselor might be able to help you figure out how to communicate with your parents so that they are able to understand how you feel and to accept any reasons you might have for a particular custody situation.
If you, Gentle Reader, are parenting a teenager and are concerned about this topic, you might consider how important it is to keep children out of the middle. Judges and Referees make this type of decision. Putting pressure on your child to make you happy by expressing a preference to live with you is an awful burden for a child. It's also important to remember, that in most cases, it's better for a child to have two functional parents in his or her life.
I've prepared a comprehensive article on this topic. You may read "Can a Child Ever Choose Which Parent She Wants To Live With" here.
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