You may have heard that once a child turns 13, he or she can choose which parent to live with. While an older child's preference will certainly be given weight, it is not up to the child's discretion.
In New York child custody cases, the judge is the one who ultimately makes the decision based on the child's best interests, which may or may not align with the child's wishes. In fact, this is a common thread in family courts across the country; usually the judge is the one with authority, not children.
Child Custody Disputes
Complex child custody matters can be simple and painless when parents agree to get along and be the best co-parents they can be. But, families are complicated and in many cases parents don't meet eye-to-eye. When parents cannot agree on child custody, a judge will have to render a decision based on the child's best interests.
New York family court judges have a lot of latitude when it comes to deciding on child custody. The factors commonly considered in a child custody dispute, include:
- Each parent's custody preference,
- The child's custody preference, assuming the child is mature enough,
- The parents' physical and emotional health,
- Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence,
- Each parent's ability to provide a stable, loving home,
- The financial resources of each parent, and
- The child's ties to their school, friends, extended family, and community, and the possible effects of making a change.
In every case, the child's well-being and safety is of the utmost importance. If there is a history of neglect, substance abuse, or child abuse, these factors will be weighed carefully. The courts make every effort to keep siblings together whenever possible, but occasionally a judge will decide to split up siblings because he or she determines that it's in the children's best interests.
Will the court consider a child's preference?
Whether a child is 3, 7, or 17, their preference is always important, however, once a child reaches the age of 13, the child's wishes will be given more weight. Still though, a younger child's preferences will not fall on deaf ears; judges are interested to learn what these preferences are.
Essentially, the more mature a child is, the more importance a judge will put on their preference. It's basically because younger children are more easily manipulated by parents. Usually, a child's preference will be a good indicator of the child's best interests, but not all the time. Sometimes children fall victim to parental pressure and judges have become good at detecting it.
If you have further questions about child custody, we urge you to contact Jason M. Barbara & Associates, P.C. to schedule a free consultation with our Nassau County child custody attorney!