Can a Child Choose to Live with the Non-Custodial Parent?

Question:caroline thompson attorney pennsylvania

How old must a child be in order to choose which parent he or she wants to live with?

If a child decides to live with the non-custodial parent, is there anything the custodial parent can do to stop that child from doing so?


Please note that these rules change according to state. This also depends on whether there is a custody order.  If there is no custody order in place, then the child can live with the non-custodial parent without having to involve the court.

If there is a custody order in place, that order would need to be modified. In some states, custody may be modified at any time. Oftentimes, a custody determination and/or subsequent modification must be made based on the best interests of the child.  For many states, the court must consider these factors in a best interest analysis:

Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party;

The present and past abuse committed by a party, whether there is continued risk of harm to the child and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child;

-The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child;

-The need for stability and continuity in the child’s life;

-The availability of extended family;

-The child’s sibling relationships;

-The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment;

-The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm;

-Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs;

-Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child;

-The proximity of the residences of the parties;

-Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate childcare arrangements;

-The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party.

Most likely, the court also considers any history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household, the mental and physical condition of a party or member of that party’s household and any other factors that are relevant to the situation.

As you can see, there are many factors that the court takes into consideration, including the child’s preference.

Please note that the child would have to speak with the court and let them know his or her preference.  It has been usual that the court will not typically speak with children much younger than eight years old to determine what they would prefer.  Also, the older the child, the more weight their preference is given.

However, please note that the court will want the child to have ongoing and consistent contact with each parent.

Remember, I am unable to provide you with anything more than divorce tips for men, so please consult a domestic litigation attorney in your area to obtain specific advice as to the laws in your state and how they impact your potential case.


To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men with a Cordell & Cordell attorney, including Pennsylvania divorce lawyer Caroline Thompson, contact Cordell & Cordell.

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7 comments on “Can a Child Choose to Live with the Non-Custodial Parent?

    Hi I’m Sam I’m 15 and I want my dad to have cousidy of me so that I can get away from my mother. But I do not want to live with him I want to live with someone else so I can go to the same school what do I do and how do I do it

    I’m 15 yrs old and I want to live with my mother. By my dad won’t let me because he says she’s too nice to me and threatens to lock me up if I do anything he doesn’t like.

    Hello I’m 16 and I need to live with my father. Im living with my mom and she is very very controlling and won’t even talk to me about me wanting to live with my dad. There is no way I can convince her to let me live with my dad. If i go to my Dads this summer and tell my mom i’m not coming back and then refuse to get back on the plane is there anybody that will physically force me back onto the plane?

    I am currently 17 years old, being five months away from turning 18 in West Virginia and wanting to live with my father who has a criminal record of abuse and alcohol abuse but is now recovered and sober; though my mother refuses to easily let this happen. How might that be possible?

    Hi John, a friend of mine is going through a similar situation he has changed his life from his old addict was and now how his 17 year old son wants to come live with him. I’m just wondering if you have made any head way on your journey and may have some advice?

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