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

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13 days 16 hours ago
Hi, my parents are thinking of getting divorced and I’m 14 years old, but they’ve both done awful things throughout their marriage that unfortunately I have been their to witness. I hold them both equally responsible for the failure in their marriage. I’ve seen and heard awful things while they have argued and every time a new argument rose up, it gave me more reason to push myself farther and farther away from each one of them. I can’t see any of them as innocent, and I can’t choose any sides seeing as how I believe they should both be… Read more »
14 days 20 hours ago

Hi im Jerry (15) and i live with my mom but i want to live with my dad. My mom says she will keep all my clothes and belongings she bought me if i move and i was wondering is she aloud to do that?

14 days 20 hours ago

Hi im Jerry and Im 15. I want to live with my dad (currently with mom) but my mom threatens that shell keep all my belongings she bought me. Is she aloud to do that?

16 days 16 hours ago

Hey i need HELP I’m 11 I live with my single mother I can’t decide to stay or live with my dad. ITS DRIVING ME CRAZY HELP!!!!!!!!!

17 days 11 hours ago

Hi I’m 12 about to turn 13 in January I was living with my mom at first then I ran away then my mom sent me with my dad. I really want to be with both of my parents and every night I cry because I don’t know what to do. Can someone please help me???

kyle pendergrass
18 days 3 hours ago

Hi i am Kyle from Norther California and my father wants me to live with him. In my opinion living at his house is horrible. I want to live with my mom can you help me out with some incite. Thanks from Kyle Pendergrass

1 month 7 days ago

Hi I’m 13 and I live in El Paso,Tx. I would like to stay with my dad but my mother is forcing me to go with her to Northern California when I do not want to. What are your suggestions?

1 month 23 days ago

Hi I’m 15 turning 16 in December I currently live with my dad but I want to live with my mom. My mom is going to fight for custody of me I’m just confused on the process like if how long it’s going to take, if I have to stay with my dad while he knows she’s taking him to court? Like someone explain please. Do I have a say? Can I choose?
I’m in Vancouver Washington

Vivian Moore
1 month 15 days ago
The time frame can take anywhere from a month to a year, it just depends on what the judge and your parents are wanting. If your dad has custody of you right now and your parents have a custody agreement/parenting plan already in place through the court you do have to stay with your dad. Your mom and your dad have to go by what the court says. If they don’t there could be serious consequences. You do get to voice your wants during the court proceedings. You can tell the judge you want to stay with your mom, but… Read more »
1 month 28 days ago

Hi my name is Fayiz UK age 10 my parents were divorced 2years ago but they were fine in the last Twp years but now my dad wants everything to get better but my mum wants to move back to Pakistan and I don’t know who to choose

2 months 1 day 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 »
Vivian Moore
1 month 15 days ago

You can call Child protective services on her. Find the local number on Google. All you have to tell them is that you are being threatened by your stepmother. They will investigate and ask you and your brother a lot of questions so do not sugar coat anything tell them every bad thing she has done but also do not over exaggerate it either. Hope this helps you