When Does a Child Get to Decide Which Parent to Live With?
As family law attorneys, we hear this question frequently from well-meaning but misinformed parents. Under Texas law, there is no age at which children have full decision-making power about which parent will exercise primary physical custody.
There are a number of reasons why this is so, but one of the primary reasons is that even the most mature children don't always make the best choices. How many children or even teenagers do you know who would always eat healthy food, go to school every day, or go to the doctor when needed, if left to their own devices?
Parents can be manipulative, too
Another reason kids don't get to decide which parent to live with may be a common occurrence in some families. Divorce can leave people feeling bitter and angry, emotions which present themselves in a variety of ways between ex-spouses. Some parents are undoubtedly guilty of using the kids to get back at the other parent, whether intentionally or subconsciously.
How does that play out in real life? Consider this question: What would be the first thing to cross your mind if the children came home from a weekend visitation with your ex, suddenly saying they want to go live with your ex? Odds are good you'd immediately wonder what he or she promised to give the children if they decided to move in.
Kids can tell the judge what they want
So, even though kids don't get the final say, Section 153.009 of the Texas Family Code gives children a voice. In custody proceedings, either parent can ask the judge to talk to the children about where they want to live and why. Under the law, if requested, the judge must talk to any children 12 years of age and older. The judge may talk to younger children as well, but is not required to do so.
What will the judge do with this information?
Depending on a child's apparent level of maturity and how well the child can articulate the reasons for wanting to live with one parent over the other, the judge can consider the child's input in making a custody decision. The child's opinion will be just one part of the evidence the judge will consider in making a custody determination believed to be in the child's best interest.
Can my child stay with me after summer visitation is over?
Absent a bona fide emergency situation, for which other rules apply, the way to get custody changed is either by agreement or by a court order. If your ex agrees to a change of custody you have a head start, but you should still consult with an experienced Texas family law attorney to make sure you and your child are protected in case your ex has a change of heart or remembers things differently down the road.
If your ex does not agree to change custody, you must file a petition in court explaining why your specific circumstances warrant a change in physical custody.
Call for custody assistance
The attorneys at Peterson Law Group have significant experience handling complicated family law issues, including child custody, visitation and support. We have a strong track record helping parents resolve issues without going to court, a we are also ready to do battle in the courtroom when necessary. Call one of our experienced Conroe, Texas divorce attorneys at 936-337-4681 or 979-703-7014 to arrange a consultation, or visit us online.