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

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10 days 6 hours ago

Hi im 13 years old i was wondering if you think tge judge would concider letting me move with my mom because i live with my dad right now and i dont think i want to live with him because he yells at me alot my step mom i feel like she hates me and loves my two younger siblings and i dont want to have to deal with it any more

Stephanie V
10 days 16 hours ago
I’m 16 years old I live with my mom and my stepdad. I’ve lived with them in Florida since March 2012 and hated it ever since. I lived with my mom and older sister(who moved out) from 2009 until March 2012. My dad lives in New York, which is where we lived until August 2009. My parents got seperated when I was 3 and I believe became officially divorced 3 years later in 2006. I want to move in with my dad. I have 2 years of high school left, I want to go to college there with the encouraging… Read more »
Emilee Walker
27 days 7 hours ago

Hi, I’m Emilee. I’m 16 years old. My parents got divorced when I was 13. My parents have shared custody of me and my brother. However, I want to live with my mom. I’m scared to say something to my dad about me wanting to live with my mom (he has a temper, drinking doesn’t help) What do I need to do to live with my mom?


27 days 17 hours ago
I’m Torie. I’m 14 years old and I want to live with my mom. She gives me space that I need and doesn’t yell much but is still stern. She’s a great mom. We have our problems like any other family but shes so much better then my dad. With my dad I always feel down. I have a low pain tolerance and get sick very easily but every time I miss a day of school I get lectures upon lectures of how it’s not okay to be sick. My step mom also tells me that my dream as a… Read more »
Zoey Richardson
1 month 20 days ago

I’m 13 years old, and I live with my mom and stepdad. My stepdad has caused me to think about self harming. He puts me down all the time, and yells so much, and he tells me I’m dumb. I don’t want to live with them anymore. And I’m pretty sure I could go to live with my dad, but I don’t know if the judge will say yes to those reasons. I have a great stable friend, that I could live with. Would the judge consider that or no?

1 month 6 days ago

hi Zoey. the judge will consider how your step fatehr is treating you. Do you have a mobile phone? Try to record some time when he yells at you and tells you bad things, then they can’t telle the judge that you are making it up. I don’t think the judge will consider a friend though.

1 month 12 days ago

I’m sorry I don’t have an answer, but I have the same problem. I am twelve and I live with my mom. My mom and boyfriend put me down, yell at me and sometimes hurt me. I see my dad every other weekend and I can never seem to have enough with him. I hope that once the divorce is settled I stay with my dad. It’ll be ok right?

1 month 6 days ago

Zach make sure that the judge knows about your preference. And aslo try and record some of the times when your mom and her boyfriend yell at you and put you down.

1 month 28 days ago

Im Ziona im 12 i live with my dad by but i want to live with my mms om. Mom lives in Atlanta,GA but My dad lives in Dothan,AL. I never get to see my sisters and my mom and awesome stepdad. I love t hem but the longest time i went without seeing my mom is 8 months!

2 months 14 days ago
I won’t tell my name, but I’m a girl and I’ve lived with my dad for 5 years now. My parents were never married. They split when I was really young maybe about 3. I’ve lived with my mom all my life until I was about 8 or 9. I’m now 14 and I hate living with my dad. We’ve been close, but his wife always seems to have a problem with me. When I moved in with my dad, my mom had an abusive boyfriend and smoked and drank. Now she Got married (To a Different guy) and she… Read more »
2 months 22 days ago
I’m 13 so most 14 in q couple month s and I want to move to my dad’s because my moms is stressful she is an alcoholic and smokes pot and cigars even when my 1 year nephew is n the car and she doesn’t even have her license she is always mean so is her boyfriend they have been together for a few years and I just hate him he yells all the time I’ve tried suicide ten or more times because of them and be ran away a couple times to. At my dads he cares about me… Read more »
william webber
3 months 6 days ago

im will im 16 I live in Illinois ive lived with my mother my whole life recently my father got custody of me, not im having homicidal and suicidal thoughts I need my mother back in my life my father doesn’t allow me to do anything or go anywhere ive been here for months and hes treating me like dirt mentally abusing me and I cannot take it anymore

3 months 7 days ago
Hi im Ella im 13, and no my parents dont abuse me but they are devorced and i feel that me and my mom dont get along ever she is always yelling and i am always yelling but when i am at my dads house he sometimes makes me cry when he screams and i tell hime that he screames alot but he dosent listen to what i have to say and when erer i try to tell him something he ignores me, i dont like my dads house because at night he is always on the phone with some… Read more »