When can my child decide where they want to live?
A frequently asked question by separated parents is “when can my child decide where they want to live?” A common misconception is that once a child turns twelve, he/she can decide which parent they will live with and how much time they will spend with the other parent.
There is no set age at which a child can decide their own living arrangements. The Court is required to take into account wishes/views expressed by a child but the Court is under no obligation to make Orders that align with the child’s/children’s wishes.
When assessing the weight to be given to views/wishes expressed by a child, the Court takes into account a number of factors, including the following;
- The age of the child
- The strength of the child’s views
- The emotional and intellectual maturity of the child
- Whether the child’s view/wish has a sound or rational base
- Whether the child’s views/wishes may be as a result of parental or other family influence or manipulation.
The Court will make Orders that it considers are in the child’s best interests. These Orders may or may not accord with a child’s views/wishes.
The Court usually seeks evidence of the child’s wishes from an independent third party. This occurs by obtaining a family report. A family report is prepared by a family consultant/social worker/psychologist appointed by the Court.
The family report writer sees all members of the family (mother, father and children) and makes an independent assessment of the issues in the case. The child/children have the opportunity to speak with the family report writer. The children have the opportunity to express their wishes or views (if it is age appropriate for them to do so), however, they are not required to express wishes or views if they are uncomfortable doing so.
It is important that children are not placed in a position where they are asked to or feel they must choose between their parents. The issue of a child’s views should only be examined through professionals such as social workers, Counselors and psychologists.