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

By Beverly Bird

The laws in every state dictate that in a custody dispute, when parents can't agree, the court has the absolute right to decide where a child will live until she reaches the age of majority. However, it can be difficult to force an older child to live in a home if she doesn't want to be there. It’s not unheard of for an adolescent to simply run away rather than live where a judge has told her she must. For this reason, most states will at least consider a teenager's wishes.

Chronological Age

Most state laws require a judge to ascertain a child’s maturity before deciding to give her wishes any weight. According to the American Bar Association, only West Virginia and Georgia include a specific chronological age in their statutes for when a judge must accommodate the preference of the child. That age is 14. In all other states, the older a child is, the more likely a judge is to acquiesce to her preference. A judge might not honor a 14-year-old’s wishes, but will almost always accommodate a 17-year-old. An 18-year-old can usually make her own decision without court approval, even if she is still in high school, if her state’s age of majority is 18.

Underlying Reasons

Other than in Georgia and West Virginia, judges will investigate a teenager's reasons for wanting to change custody before making a decision. This is commonly accomplished during a private conversation in the judge’s chambers, not in open court. If a judge suspects the teenager's wishes are not in her own best interest -- for example, if she wants to go live with her father because rules are virtually non-existent in his household, or because he has somehow bribed or influenced her into making this decision -- the court probably won’t honor her wishes. If a judge suspects undue influence, he might order the intervention of a mental health professional to uncover the true reasons behind the teenager’s request.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Parental Suitability

Even in Georgia and West Virginia, if the court determines that a parent is unfit, it does not have to award custody to that parent when a teenager requests it. If a teen’s reasons for wanting to live with her other parent are pure and logical, but that parent has a documented drug or alcohol problem or frequent brushes with the law, the judge does not have to transfer custody. This would not be in the best interests of the child.

Weight of the Teen’s Decision

When there is an existing custody order, and a teenager wants to change that order, her wishes are usually the focus of the court’s deliberations. However, when custody is being determined for the first time, such as when parents separate or divorce, states have different criteria for including a teen’s wishes in the decision. In most cases, her desires are only one factor in determining custody. In North Carolina, the judge may or may not even interview the child; it’s up to his discretion. According to the Oregon State Bar Association, judges in that state prefer not to take a child’s wishes into consideration when establishing an initial custody order, but they sometimes will.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
The Legal Age in California for Choosing to Live With Your Mom or Your Dad

References

Related articles

If You Get Divorced in Georgia Can You Move to a Different State With Your Kids?

Before 2003, Georgia was one of the more lenient states when allowing a custodial parent to move away or relocate with her children post-divorce. The courts put the burden of proof on the non-custodial parent to convince a judge that such a move would actually be harmful to the children, and this could be difficult to establish. The Georgia Supreme Court reversed this position in the case of Bodne v. Bodne in 2003. At the time of publication, the custodial parent has the burden of proof to establish that a move would improve the children’s lives more than the separation from their other parent would harm them.

California Laws on Teenage Custody Wishes

Custody determinations often have a significant impact on the life of a child. For that reason, California law provides judges with the discretion to consider a teenager's preference, if the child is capable of making a reasonable choice. Also, teenagers 14 and older may generally participate in the proceedings and offer input, regardless of whether the court ultimately considers the child's preference.

Child Custody Rights for 12 Years & Older

Establishing child custody can be a highly contentious aspect of divorce. Although each parent may feel entitled to a certain amount of contact and authority over a child, custody decisions are made according to what is best for the child. In cases where the child is of sufficient age to understand the nature of the proceedings, his or her participation and preference might be considered by the court. Understanding how state law impacts the custody rights of your pre-teen or teenage child will help you better prepare for the custody process.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

What Age Do Children in Utah Have Rights to Choose Which Parent to Live With in a Divorce?

In Utah, the wishes of a child are one factor a court may consider when determining the custody arrangement following a ...

What Age Can a Child Decide Custody?

Most state courts are well aware that children – particularly teenagers – can have firm feelings of their own ...

How Is Child Custody Decided In Divorce?

Every state defers to a concept called the “best interests of the child” when deciding custody issues. But different ...

How Old Must a Minor Be in Kentucky Before He Has a Say in Custody & Visitation?

Parents are often vocal about their preferences in a custody battle. However, a child also may have an opinion about ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED