At What Age Does My Child Get To Decide Who They Want To Live With? Is It 12 Years Old?

One of the most common questions I am asked in a custody case is at what age does a child get to choose which parents they want to live with? In other words, at what age does a child get to pick one parent over the other?

I have practiced family law for 27 years and I have three  children of my own who are now ages 16, 18, and 20. Knowing that is my background, here is my answer.

In what world is it appropriate for an adult to want to delegate such a major life decision to a child? Many people believe when a child is 12, they can choose which parent they want to live with. At 12 years old that child is probably in grade six – junior elementary school. They are learning how to write a complete paragraph and how to multiply. It Is simply unfair to think that child has any real understanding of the issue you are asking them to decide. The responsibility should not be forced onto a child – they shouldn’t have to live with their decision of picking one parent over the other.

As an experienced social worker once told me, “children have a voice, not a choice.” Your case may get to the stage where a third party is hired to investigate and one of the things they will do is interview your children. Know that your child will never forget the details of what happened or how they were put into middle. It is not a step any parent should take lightly

Here are some realities you need to know:

  1. What the parenting schedule should be, should be worked out between the parents. Never put the responsibility to make that decision on a child.
  2. Stop trying to delegate a major parental decision to a child.
  3. Children have a “voice” but not a “choice”
  4. If your case is high acrimony, you are putting your children in a position where they will pick a side. That is a sad reality you see over and over in this type of law.
  5. Children in so many cases tell their parents what they think they want to hear. They see how their parents have turned on each other. They don’t want to be next. But be careful, you may be surprised what they say to a third party that is hired to find out what your child wants.

Children are entitled to a relationship with both parents. They should be able to get the best from both. Do your children a huge favour – get a schedule worked out that you can both live with. Present to them as a united front and stick to it. If you can do that, your children won’t have to pick a side.

In the end, with very few exceptions, your children will spend time with both parents. There are only seven days in a week. Sit down and figure out a reasonable way to divide up time. This issue is between you and your spouse. If you can, keep your children out of it.