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Can my child choose their custody schedule?

On Behalf of | Feb 26, 2024 | Family Law

Raising a child with someone you are divorced or separated from is challenging. You may believe that co-parenting will get easier as your child gets older but sometimes it brings its own new set of challenges.

For example, your child might start to express a preference for living with one parent over the other. They may even become demanding or rebellious, believing that they are old enough to choose where they want to live.

This can be difficult to handle, especially if you have questions about what the law says regarding a child choosing their custody schedule.

Like many states, New York courts make custody decisions based on what is in the best interest of the child. What is in a child’s best interest differs in every case.

Age and maturity level matter

However, there are a set of factors the court always analyzes when making custody decisions.

One of these factors is the child’s wishes. Therefore, the court will listen to what your child wants.

When a child testifies about their custody preference, the child’s age and maturity level are considered. A 15-year-old child is likely going to be better able to articulate what they want than a 5-year-old child.

That does not mean that an older child’s custody wishes are automatically granted. For example, some older children are more mature than others.

In some cases, a 12-year-old child might have a higher maturity level than a 16-year-old. Therefore, it is important to recognize that there is no set age at which your child can choose their custody schedule or that the court will take their preference more seriously.

Your child’s preference is one factor out of many

Another important key point is that a child’s wishes are just one factor out of several that a court considers.

In addition to the child’s wishes, courts consider who has acted as the primary caregiver, the parents’ caregiving skills, their health and more.

Additionally, practical factors are considered, such as each parent’s work schedule and transportation options. A history of proven domestic violence or abuse could also impact a custody order.

Since a court must consider these factors in addition to a child’s wishes, a custody schedule is never truly up to the child, no matter their age or maturity level.

The reason for your child’s preference will be examined

This is commonly seen in cases involving a child who has lived primarily with one parent suddenly wanting to live with the other parent as they get older. The child may express their wish to live with the other parent, but a court will carefully analyze the reasons for this desire.

Further investigation could show that the child’s primary caregiver has strict rules about homework, bedtime and social activities, while the other parent allows the child to stay out late with friends and not do homework.

If these are the reasons for the child’s sudden change of preference, a court might easily conclude that granting the child’s wishes would not be in their best interest.