Can My Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

One question that comes up again and again in custody cases is whether or not children have any say in which parent they live with. This is a highly misunderstood topic in family law, and one that is riddled with a great deal of misinformation.


Here’s what you need to know about the way a child’s preference might impact your custody case.


Courts Prefer Shared Custody Arrangements


While one parent might be the parent who has primary residential custody, the truth is courts prefer for the child to spend 50% of their time with each parent. “Dual Residential Placement” arrangements are common. The courts want to see children have a relationship with both parents.


So while your child might prefer to “live with” the other parent, the truth is the courts might find it in your child’s best interests to spend time with both about equally.


Of course, there are cases where this just isn’t possible. Parents might live too far apart, for example, or accusations may be flying which force the judge to evaluate whether one of the parents poses a danger to the child. Nevertheless, it’s important to realize that the court’s preference often makes the child’s opinion something of a moot point.


There is No Magic Age


Various rumors abound. Some say it’s age 12. Others say it’s age 14.


Yet the courts will at least listen to what the child has to say at any age. The judge will usually interview the child in chambers. The child’s answer will be one of many factors the judge takes into account when evaluating whether a certain custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child.


Judges are also well aware children’s preferences may not come from a place that serves them. For example, your 14 year old teenager might well prefer to live with the parent that lets them stay up and play XBox games all night, but that doesn’t mean such a move would be in that child’s best interests.


There are Stronger Ways to Make a Custody Case


It’s best not to rely on the child’s opinion at all. In fact, doing so might cause you to try to pressure or guilt trip your child in a thousand small ways later, and this can lead to your child feeling caught in the middle or forced to take sides. Numerous studies show this isn’t good for the child.


Instead, strong custody cases are based on what you are doing right as a parent. Who spends the most time with the child? Who takes them shopping for clothes? Who handles meals? Homework? Meetings with teachers?

We can help you showcase your parenting strengths in a way that makes the judge give your opinion more weight. It all starts with a consultation with one of our experienced family law lawyers. Contact us today.

About Donald I.M. Outerbridge

Donald became the Executive Director of Merchant Law Group LLP starting in 1993, nearly 30 years ago. His experience managing law firms at various levels and in multiple provinces across Canada goes back even further to 1981.