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When Can My Child Decide with Whom They Want to Live?

Divorce brings about the need to make many decisions, and none is more important than the issue of child custody. Many people believe there is a “magic age” when children can choose the parent with whom they prefer to live — or have the right to make that choice. In North Carolina, there is no age for this. Instead, parents can try to come to an agreement based on the best interests of the child, but family court may be needed if that fails.

Your Child’s Input

Keep in mind that choosing a parent is awful. Your child(ren) wants both parents. He or she will feel guilty trying to decide. He may know clearly which parent with whom he’d prefer to live, but by saying so, he is betraying the other parent.

Plus, if your child is 6 years old or younger, he or she may not be able to express these complicated thoughts and emotions. As his/her parents, you may have an idea about your child’s wishes based on behavior and actions.

Court Custody

If you and your partner are struggling to settle child custody, consider mediation before going to court. Mediation works well if both sides can communicate effectively. If your child is at an age at which he or she can express with whom they wish to live, you can take that into consideration.

If you and your ex cannot create a custody agreement, a judge will decide what is in the child’s best interest. In North Carolina, a judge will decide based on many factors such as education, established relationships (with other family members or friends close by), daily routine, and more. He or she will look at the overall picture to decide where your kids should live.

Legally, a judge does not have to include the child’s input no matter his age. Some judges will interview your child; some will not. Remember, a judge isn’t helping you and your partner settle things like a mediator. He or she is only considering the child’s best interests.

Therapists, teachers, and coaches, all spend time with your child. They may see and hear things you aren’t aware of and, while they can’t testify in court to exactly what your child says (it’s often considered “hearsay”), they can give some insight as to how your child is functioning and when he or she seems happiest. You may also rely on their input if you choose mediation.

It’s important to remember that, as much as each parent wants custody, each side should do what is best for the child. Children are able to pick up on the struggles of divorce, so look for signs that your child may be stressed.

And remember that we can help. Call or chat with us today to schedule a consultation with one of our divorce professionals, or register for one of our divorce workshops to receive legal advice and access to therapists who can help you cope with divorce.


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