Ask a Divorce Lawyer: How old does a child have to be to decide where they want to live?

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



I do not practice in West Virginia.  Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of West Virginia.  With that being said, 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 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 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 only one factor in my jurisdiction that the Guardian ad Litem and Judge use to determine the best interest of the child. 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. 

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


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.

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10 comments on “Ask a Divorce Lawyer: How old does a child have to be to decide where they want to live?

    ok so my parents have been divorced since I was 2 or 3. Anyway I switch back and forth every week and it’s emotionally awful. My dad is so mean – emotionally and acts like I treat him like crap when he and his wife treat me like I’m an awful kid etc. I can’t even begin with my step mom! I wanna live with my mom! Help!!!

    I want to live with my mom and I want to know if I have to go to court with my dad and my evil stepmom no joke she treats my step brother better. The reasons I want to live with my mom is that I love her more than my dad and my stepmom combined and my treats me like a princess and she is got me a kitten, and I’m buying a pool table for me at her house. Oh and my stepmom won’t let me hangout with my best friend just because she is immature well look at my stepmom and my best friend my stepmom is probably more immature then my best friend

    Me and my brother want to leave my father and step mom because we are not enjoying it physically we’re okay but emotionally…not so much. They cut of our visitation with our real mother we can’t even call her except for some Fridays. Our step mother always says the worst things about our mom and trys to make us hate her and make us think she’s the worst person and just wants to use us for money. Me and my mom are trying to find ways of getting us home. Is there anything we can do because I’m 15, my brother is 10 and we live in California and our mom lives in Wisconsin.

    My mom and dad got divorced when I was three or four Aaron my mom packed up me my sister stuff and made us live with our grandma for about five years I think and my dad told me the story that he gave my mom divorce papers do you really remove my grandma for at least three years to living with her for three years and tell my mom about it that he could handle her anymore she don’t believe me but when I told my grandma you believe I don’t get how this works with my mom not believing me and my grandpa believe because I asked my mom to see how old you to be when you get to choose who you want to live with and she said that it will be in my entire life going back and forth from moms to Dads. I seriously don’t want to live with either I want to go live with godfather so badly.

    I think you should go to your counselor and see what she says and tell her what your dad is doing to your family and see what she says about your dad and see if she can call the cops on him or something like that.

    My mom left me with my dad at age 2 and she went off to have my little brother. My dad married and had a baby with her and she already had two kids. I really want to live with my mom! My dad is abusing people and my dog and I want out now!!!!! Help! I already talked to my mom but I don’t know how to tell my dad and I believe that legally he should be going to jail. But Help! What do I do! – I wanna live with mom #whattodonext

    Same here. I’m 15 years old and my parents have joint custody, they have since I was three. I have to pack my life up every other week to go from house to house and it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. My dad treats me like I’m not there or I’m a bother but he won’t let me go with my mother full time. I’m so fed up with him.

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