What If a Teen with Divorced Parents Wants to Live with the Opposite Parent?

By River Braun, J.D.

What If a Teen with Divorced Parents Wants to Live with the Opposite Parent?

By River Braun, J.D.

Where a child lives after a divorce is a priority for many parents considering an end to their marital union. Younger children often remain in the marital home with one parent to assist in the transition and to promote a feeling of security. Many states have adopted time-sharing plans in favor of custody and visitation arrangements. However, one thing remains the same—unemancipated children under the age of 18 typically do not have a right to choose which parent they live with after a divorce.

Upset teen looking away from her mother

Possible Consideration of a Child's Age When Determining Custody

The laws relating to a child's preference for his or her custodial residence vary by state. Most states do not specify an age at which a child can choose which parent he or she lives with after a divorce. Instead, the majority of states allows a judge to consider a child's reasonable preferences for living arrangements when making custody decisions. The age at which a judge weighs a child's desire for living with one parent over the other depends more on maturity than chronological age.

Because parents may manipulate a younger child more easily than an older child, judges may not give as much weight to a younger child's preferences. This is not to say that a parent may not unfairly manipulate a teenager into choosing one home over another home. Therefore, judges usually investigate a teenager's request to live with one parent instead of viewing the request solely in relation to the child's age or maturity level.

In general, though, courts do not ask a minor child who he or she prefers to live with after a divorce. However, teenagers may request to move in with the noncustodial parent for a variety of reasons. Ascertaining the reason for the request is the first step for parents to consider when discussing a change of residence. Determining the true reason for the desire to move can guide parents in determining if the move may be beneficial for the entire family.

The Teenager's Best Interest As the Controlling Factor

The overriding concern in any custody decision is the child's best interests. If a teenager's safety or well-being is at risk living with a specific parent, a judge will not grant a teen's request to live with that parent.

For instance, judges consider factors such as a parent's history of violence, domestic abuse, or substance abuse carefully when weighing a teenager's request to live with them. The safety and stability of the home may also be factors in a judge's custody decision. Another factor may be the presence of a stepparent who attempts to interfere with or prevent a relationship between the teenager and the parent. Most states allow a judge to consider all factors that the judge believes are relevant in determining the teenager's best interest when deciding on their primary residence.

Regardless of the reason a teenager may want to move in with his or her other parent, parents have the responsibility to ensure that the final decision is in the best interest of the teenager, even though he or she may not recognize that fact right now.

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