Question: My 16-year-old daughter no longer wants to visit with her father. Can she just tell him she does not want to come back, and do that with no recourse? We share joint legal and physical custody. My daughter will be 17 in 30 days; will that change anything?
Answer: I do not practice in Missouri. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of Missouri. With that said, there may be a specific statute in your State that provides for an age for a child to determine or provide impute into the custody decision. When there is a custody dispute in my State, the court appoints a Guardian ad Litem regardless of the age of the minor child, to determine what the best interests of the child are as to custody and placement. 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 only one factor in my jurisdiction that the Guardian ad Litem and Judge use to determine the best interest of the child and the custody arrangements. Usually by 12 years old a child can testify. As the child gets older, 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 she has to have a logical reason for changing the present support and placement.
You should contact an attorney licensed in Missouri to inquire as to whether a statue defines when a child can decide and the standard the courts apply in determining custody and placement. Cordell & Cordell has many attorneys licensed to practice in Missouri who would be happy to help.
Erica 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.