When Is a Child Old Enough To Select a Custodial Parent?

If you are going through a divorce and have children, you need to resolve the question of child custody and how to split parenting time. A court must decide what is in the best interests of the child and in doing so will consider a wide range of relevant factors. If a child is sufficient age and level of maturity, a court will allow the children’s preferences to influence the award of custody. But how is that age determined?

Arizona law does not specify a certain age at which a child is considered old enough to express their preference for a custodial parent. Instead, the court will assess the child’s maturity and how those preferences are presented to the court. A court can take into account the following:

  • whether the child was willing to testify about their preference
  • how the child will be affected psychologically by their choice of parent
  • the relevance of the child’s testimony in the opinion of the judge

While children are generally not expected to testify in divorce proceedings, their preference will likely be given greater weight if they do testify. Their testimony does not have to be in open court. It can be heard by a custody evaluator or therapist who then relays it to the judge. Or the testimony can be given in a judge’s chambers. The court can use the testimony to evaluate the psychological impact of the divorce on the child. The court also can decide how much weight to give to the child’s preference for either parent. Where a child’s preference is logical and appears well thought out, it will likely be more relevant to the judge’s decision making. Judges are also wary of testimony that seems to be unduly influenced by either of the child’s parents.

For divorcing parents, the question of whether and how a child should express their preferences for custody can be emotionally trying. An Arizona child custody attorney experienced in working with parents and children can help you to weigh the various pros and cons of your options. 

At Clark & Schloss Family Law, P.C. in Scottsdale, Arizona, we frequently assist divorcing parents in navigating child custody issues. If you have questions about your child’s preferences or need representation, please call us at 602-789-3497 or contact us online anytime.