How Much Influence Does a Child’s Wishes Have During Custody Decisions?
Divorce can be difficult for children. In many instances, a child may feel like he or she has to pick sides or choose between parents. This is especially true when it comes to determining with whom the child should live.
Often, parents will negotiate the terms of their parenting plan privately, either between themselves or during a mediation. When the parents cannot make a decision, a family court judge will decide how much time each parent gets with the children.
When deciding on a parenting plan, a judge will weigh many different factors. These include:
- The child’s relationship with parents, siblings, and other family members,
- The child’s relationship to the community, including friends, school, church, and extra-curricular activities,
- Which parent has acted as the primary caretaker in the past,
- The ability of each parent to care for and watch over the child, and
- The wishes of the child.
After considering these and other factors, the judge will create a parenting plan that he or she believes is in the best interest of the child. Often, the parent who was caring for a child’s daily needs prior to the divorce will have a significant advantage when it comes to determining primary custody.
However, the child’s opinion about who he or she should live with also plays a large part in this decision. Washington State law requires the judge to consider the child’s preference, so long as he or she is intelligent and mature enough to make such a decision. The law does not require the child to be of a certain age—instead, if the child understands the situation and can articulate his or her preference, the judge is required to weigh that opinion as well.
In order to determine the child’s preference, the judge may speak with him or her privately, in chambers. Alternatively, the court may appoint a mental health care professional to interview the child about the living arrangement. In almost no situation would the child have to testify in open court about his or her preferences.
Whenever children are involved, courts are careful to watch for signs that the child has been coached to choose one parent over the other. If the judge believes the child has been unduly influenced, then the judge may disregard the child’s opinion entirely. In contrast, in cases where both parents are equally fit to care for the children, the child’s preferences may act as a tie breaker.
Most parents would prefer to keep their children out of their divorce as much as possible. With the alternative in mind, many parents are able to come to an agreement themselves about their parenting plan, without having to involve the judge.
At Ashby Law, we understand that these decisions can be difficult, and understand that it may be hard to deal with your former spouse. That’s why our attorneys use tactics like mediation and negotiation which can help parents come to a mutual agreement. If you need help working with your former partner about issues regarding child custody, Ashby Law is here for you.
To schedule your consultation with one of our Washington family law attorneys, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.