When a divorce involves children, it can be incredibly emotional and complex for everyone. While it is the duty of the court to keep the “best interests” of the children in mind when making all decisions, sometimes children want a say in their situation, or their preferences and relationships with their parents have changed. This can result in them wanting to voice their opinion on their living situation or other court orders in a divorce.
One of the most common questions children of divorce and their parents have is regarding the age at which a California minor can choose what parent to live with. Here’s some basic information on child custody decisions in California and when your child has a say in where they end up living.
What Age Can a Child Pick Which Parent To Live With in California?
According to the California Family Code, a child that reaches age 14 is of sufficient age to address the court about custody and visitation decisions that affect them. When this occurs, the court must take their preferences into consideration when making a decision unless they believe their preferences to be dangerous or detrimental to their overall health and well-being.
However, this does not mean that the child involved gets to choose which parent they live with. Instead, they can only voice their opinion on whom they would like to live with and why. It’s also important to note that children under the age of 14 can also voice their preferences, but the court will keep in mind the child’s age, mental capacity, needs, and more when deciding if their preference is viable. Usually, when the child is younger, a judge will require a professional third party to voice their preferences to the court. Otherwise, a child can only choose where to live once they have reached the age of 18.
What Aspects Affect Child Custody Decisions?
In order to properly determine what is best for the children involved, the court will take a variety of aspects into consideration when deciding child custody terms, including the following:
- The number of children involved
- The ages of each child involved
- The health of each child
- Emotional relationships and ties between children and parents
- Age-specific needs of each child
- The income of both parents
- The health of both parents
- The ability of each parent to care for their children
- The type of home each parent has
- Where the children go to school and their ties to their community
- Medical conditions of the children or parents
- History of domestic violence or abuse
- If either parent has a substance issue
Do Children Have To Go to Court To Express Their Preferences?
The ultimate decision of whether or not your child will declare their preferences in court is up to the judge of your case. If the child is 14 or older, or they are seemingly mature for their age, the judge will most likely allow them to directly address the court with their preferences for custody. If the judge believes that a child may be negatively affected by testifying in court, whether because of their age, their mental capacity, or their preferences, then a professional third-party, such as an attorney or mediator, will be asked to voice their preferences for them.
Q: Can a Child Refuse Contact With a Parent in California?
A: Technically, a child can refuse to contact a parent through methods like text or phone calls on their own time, but they are only allowed to skip visitations with their other parent if their safety or well-being is in potential danger. Otherwise, each child is legally required to attend visitations unless they have reached the age of 18 or their child custody order is modified in court.
Q: How Far Can a Parent Move From the Other With Joint Custody?
A: California law views any co-parenting relationship of 20 miles or more to be a “long-distance” relationship. This is because situations, where co-parents are 20 miles or more apart, can often make handling custody issues and the children’s lives more complex. Coparents should not live more than 50 miles apart, maximum; otherwise, their order may be affected or modified.
Q: Can Child Custody Orders Be Changed in California?
A: A parent can petition to have a child custody order modified at any time in the state of California. However, this doesn’t mean the court will grant it the modification. The parent will have to prove that the requested modification of the custody order is in the best interest of the children. If the court believes the change is best for the children, they will modify the order and implement it ASAP.
Q: What If a Parent Disagrees With a Child’s Custody Preference?
A: Sometimes parents and children disagree. When this occurs, both the parent and the child will have to voice their preferences on what they believe is best. Regardless of what the parents or the children want, the judge will make their final custody decision based on what is best for the children at the moment.
Q: How Does the Court Determine What the “Best Interests” of a Child Are?
A: Throughout any divorce involving children, you’ll commonly hear the phrase “the best interests of the children.” This is because it is the legal duty of the state family court to consider all aspects that can affect the children involved. The court ultimately makes its decisions on what is best for the child, their needs, their health and welfare, and overall safety.
Expert California Family Law Assistance: Khalaf Law Group
No divorce is simple, especially when you have children involved that you’re worried about. Here at the Khalaf Law Group, our team has been assisting California individuals through difficult family law matters, such as child custody decisions, for over a decade. We understand just how complicated family law cases can become, which is why we are committed to providing dedicated, strategic representation and assistance for each of our clients.
Whether you need help representing your child’s preferences or you’re going through a divorce with consistent disputes, our team at Khalaf Law Group offers legal services that can help you. To learn more about our Pasadena law firm or to schedule a case consultation, contact us for more information.