Choosing Mom or Dad: Can A Child Choose Where To Live?

age of child choose custodyBy Erica Christian

Divorce Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Divorce can be a nasty process. When child custody is an issue, divorce is even more contentious. Some parents want to leave the custody battle up to the child, thus the inevitable question:

How old does a child have to be to decide where and with which parent they want to live?

There may be a specific statute in your state that provides for an age when a child may determine or provide input as to the child custody decision. When there is a custody dispute in my state (Wisconsin), the court appoints a Guardian ad Litem regardless of the age of the minor child, to determine the best interests of the child.

Generally, a child can testify when they are of sufficient maturity to understand and take the oath to testify truthfully. However, the child’s wishes are usually only one factor the court will use to determine the best interest of the child. (Read more about the best interest of the child standard.) In some states, the judge must determine whether permitting the child to state a preference is even in the child’s best interests.

Usually by 12 years old a child can testify. As the child gets older, his or her wishes carry more weight. By 15 or 16 if the child is of general maturity and has logical reasons for changing the custody, the court will often abide by the child’s wishes.  The key is that the child has to have a logical reason for changing the present support and placement.

Child custody statutes routinely require the fact-finder to consider the child’s preferences. Despite their speculative nature, preferences are important to the case – and to parents’ rights.

Therefore, state rules for preference testimony strike a balance between protecting children from the pain of having to choose and ensuring their preference testimony is reliable, or as reliable as can be.

You should contact an attorney licensed in your state to inquire as to whether a statute defines when a child can decide and the standard the courts apply in determining custody and placement.

Cordell & Cordell has men’s divorce lawyers located nationwide.


erica christianErica Christian is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is licensed to practice law in the state of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Bar Association, the Family Law Section and the Children’s Law Section.

Ms. Christian received her B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication as well as her Juris Doctor from the University of Wisconsin, graduating with academic distinction.

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204 Comments on "Choosing Mom or Dad: Can A Child Choose Where To Live?"

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6 days 5 hours ago
My parents have been divorced ever since I was a young girl, and I would live with her during the week and go with my dad on the weekend. I used to love being at both of their houses, and even though they were divorced they were still like friends so everything was good. Then my mom met my current stepfather which I truly love with all my heart, and around that time my dad met my current stepmother which can be like a devil sometimes. Unlike my mom and stepdad, whom I could talk to anything about, my stepmom… Read more »
12 days 9 hours ago
Hi I’m 12 years old and I live in Houston, Texas I’d like to live with my dad and as much as I want it I’m always going to need it more. My mom doesn’t really show much attention or care for me she’s usually on her phone. She whips me with a belt and she gives me bruises, she abuses me and I don’t want to live how I’m living for the rest of my childhood. I always get in trouble for texting my dad that “I got in trouble by her and she took my phone away so… Read more »
18 days 1 hour ago
Hi I’m 15 turning 16 in November. I know this website is American and I’m Canadian but I’m still wondering what to do. I want to live with my dad and stepmom in Edmonton because I live with my mom and stepdad in Saskatchewan and they constantly talk crap about my dad and discourage us from talking to him and they swear and were abusive all my life up until I was 11 or 12. They destroy our stuff, mock the things me and my brother like (pokèmon, Minecraft) and call us names and yell at us (waste of skin,… Read more »
20 days 8 hours ago
Hi i just turned 13 and i was wondering if i could choose where i live. My father got full custody of my 4 years ago but ever since he got this new job hes ALWAYS ON HIS PHONE and i understand that he may be working on it, but its more than just that he goes on Facebook and tells me hes “working”. ALSO, the other half the time hes not on his phone he is yelling at me… I stay home alone A LOT, like more than 8 hours sometimes…So, now onto my mom. My mother lives in… Read more »
Brittany bruegeman
23 days 1 hour ago

Hi my name is Brittany bruegeman, I live in clarkston Washington and I’m 15 I’m currently living with my mom and dad but my dad don’t stay home enough to care or notice on what I do but my mom does and my mom what’s to divorce my dad because he has been cheating on my mom for a couple years now but she couldn’t do anything because she didn’t have the money and I want to know of I’m old enough to decide

25 days 3 hours ago
I’m 16 I want to live with my dad. My mom lives about 2 hours away and is refusing to let me go. I was living with my mom when I was in middle school and she moved to a place that we have no family or friends during the beginning of freshmen year. Waiting for a court date I refused to go with my mom to a new school and stayed with my dad and my real family, until the actual day of court. I was called on to talk to the judge and he completely over threw what… Read more »
Hannah hessell
28 days 6 hours ago

hi my name is Hannah Hessell I live in Michigan and I’m 13 I’m currently living with my mother right now but I really want to be with my dad. my parents were never married but they separated when I was young because my dad went to jail! my dad has been outta jail for a while now! And he has been doing Really good him and his soon to be wife just bought a house meanwhile my mom lives in a trailer park. I just really wanna live with my dad please help me

1 month 21 hours ago

Ok. Im 14, my dad and mom are not together anymore. My mom wants to leave state at tax time and move to where her family is. But my dad is gonna fight for it. But hes only on my birth certificate. Am i old enough to decide whether or not i wanna live with him.

1 month 4 days ago
not sure what to do. can a child of 16 get their own lawyer even after the custody agreements are finalized? i haven’t seen one parent in a while but know how to see that parent very so often. i really cant stand being there because of the rudeness and getting treated like im a prisoner when im there and i really need to get out. is there a way to get my own lawyer and go against my other “parent”. the house that im going to now is crazy and i cant be there. its literally killing me, need… Read more »
1 month 7 days ago

Okay. So i got token by my grandmother. (I was abused by my mother’s boyfriend). My mom told my dad that he can have custody. And I’ve only known him for two months and he has been to jail and he is on probation. And lives in a half way house. I’m 13 . And I want to live with my grandmother.. please help I feel mentally unstable