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

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Cyrus Beaman
12 days 16 hours ago
Hello, I am 14, and I am split between my parents, its been like this for as long as I can remember, my mom used to be financially unstable and had used illegal drugs, that is when my dad got costody of me, my mom stopped doing drugs and is now very stable financially and my dad is less stable now, there is more educational opportunities with my mom and my mom lives in California, and my dad live in Washington, so if I went to my moms house and stayed there while still visiting my dad but not as… Read more »
7 days 20 hours ago

If you go to court and explain to them what you would to do and they say it’s okay (warning: your parents usually have a say in this too), then it is legal. BUT if both parents agree with this before you consider going to court, then you won’t even need to go to court, it would be legal anyway. Good luck!

24 days 10 hours ago

OK I am 13 and my dad called me this morning asking if I want to live with him. :/ the divorce is in the process but I want to live with my mother because my dad will have all my little siblings and my mom will have none of us. My dad has been cheating on my mother awhile and she can’t do it anymore. My dad is mean to me most of the time but I still love them both. Plz help :\

25 days 3 hours ago
Hello, I’m Sky and I’m 17 years old, and I’m from Mississippi. I currently live with my dad, he has full custody of me, but I’m tired of living here. I want to move to my grandmother’s but my dad won’t let me, so is there anyway I could have a say in where I want to live? I’m not happy here, so I want to leave. I’ve become very depressed and secluded from everything, and my dad isn’t making the effort to help me. I would live with my mom but she’s not financially stable and she also doesn’t… Read more »
Brittany Simpson
29 days 2 hours ago

The judge today gave my own child Emma Louise Curtis full custody to my little sister Rebecca oden and mark oden. But as her parents we still got rights we would so like to know how old and when can she come home to chose to live with us she is only 18 months old I so miss her my heart is so broken into pieces

1 month 16 hours ago

I’m 13 andI want to stay with my mom(who has me more often).my dad is newly married and his wife just had a baby so they mostly ignore me and my9 year old sister.I feel like the only reason I’ve been more mature than my older cousins for the past few years is from my dad not feeding us on his times and I had to somehow find food in his house for me and my sister(I was 7 to 12 when this was happening

1 month 17 hours ago

hi I’m 15, and my parents are divorcing and my parents are fighting over who my brothers and I go with. I want to live with my dad, but the other kids are 13, 11, and 7 I know they won’t have much say, but what are the chances of me staying with my dad?

ronald macdonald
1 month 1 day ago

Hi im 13 and im from illinois my parents got divorced a while ago and i have wanted to live with my dad but my mom says i have to wait til im 18 is that true?

Anonymous answer seeker
1 month 1 day ago

Hey, im 16 yrs old, my parents divorced several years ago and i was sent to live with my mom. We have a court date coming up because my dad is trying to recover costody of me and my little brother, i was recently expelled fom public school due to poss. Of marijuana, and if i move in with my dad he is gonna put me in alt/homeschooling and i believe its what i have to do to turn the page and start fresh, may odds be in my favor?

1 month 3 days ago

Hi I and 12 years old and I live in Albuquerque NM and my parents are divorced and I don’t know who to live with my dad can be mean and my mom can be mean to and I don’t know who to choose someone who leaves and spends time with boyfriend or some one who is mean to us so I made up my mind and said I needed some time to think so I’m spending time with each parent to see which one is a better place for me

1 month 4 days ago

Hello I’m 13 yr old boy,I was wondering if I can live with my dad because my mom is always making me do everything only for her cause,she doesn’t buy the right groceries,all she buys is snacks and junk food,she doesn’t cook for me,my dad can cook and take care of me better