Proposed Arizona Law Would Let Teens Select Which Parent They Want to Live With

Parents can argue over legal decision-making and visitation issues long after a divorce is finalized, and the children are sometimes drawn into the conflict. Naturally, infants and toddlers have no say in these matters, but as children mature, some gain the intelligence and are able to articulate themselves to decide and express their preferences on where to live. In those situations, Arizona law allows judges to consider the children’s preferences in making legal decision-making and visitation decisions. Now, state legislators are considering a proposed law that would go further and give children 14 years or older the right to choose their own living arrangements.

Under current Arizona law, legal decision-making and visitation is granted based primarily on what is in the child’s best interests. A court will enter orders designed to protect and bolster a minor child’s physical and emotional well-being. It will consider multiple factors, including the child’s preferences if he or she has the intelligence and maturity to make and communicate them.

The bill under consideration would give a child aged 14 or older the right to decide on legal decision-making and parenting time as long as the child is “sufficiently mature so that the child can intelligently and voluntarily express a preference for one parent.” The teenager’s choice would be presumptive — that is, controlling — unless the court determines that the child’s wishes are not in his or her best interests.

The proposed law would also require judges to give greater weight to the preferences of children under the age of 14 in deciding on legal decision-making and parenting time. If the child is of suitable age and maturity, the court would have to “strongly consider” the child's wishes unless they are deemed not to be in the best interest of the child.

The bill has passed the House and is currently in the Senate. Proponents of the change in the law claim that it empowers children and helps put their interests first. Detractors argue that the proposed law goes too far. They say that parents will have great incentives to pressure and manipulate children to make decisions favoring the one parent. This will allegedly harm a child’s mental health and adversely affect parent-child relationships.

Child custody (legal decision-making) and visitation issues are often complex and acrimonious. Anyone getting divorced who has minor children should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced family law attorney to protect their interests and those of the children.

Based in Scottsdale, Clark & Schloss is one of Arizona’s premier divorce and family law firms. Our attorneys have the knowledge, skills and experience to successfully handle all areas of domestic relations law. If you have a divorce or child custody matter, feel free to call us at 602-789-3497 or contact us online for a consultation.