There are many factors that affect how custody of a child will be awarded in the event of a divorce. However, rest assured that the courts will always act in your child’s best interest. They will examine every facet of your family dynamic to decide how custody will be awarded so your child can continue to grow up safe and happy. Yet, there are certain times in which the child themselves can help sway a judge’s decision. In child custody cases, a child’s preference can be taken into consideration, but not always.
A Child’s Age Matters
If there’s one thing people know about custody cases and a child’s preference rights, it’s that age matters. The older a child is when it comes to custody, the more weight the child’s preference will be given. So if a four year old child gives preference, the judge is not likely to weigh that very heavily because their opinion can be easily fostered through things like presents, lack of discipline, and the general presence at home of one parent. At such a young age, children may not yet have the mental faculties developed to know what they’re agreeing to.
However, if a child were 13 years old, they have developed enough to make an informed decision; the judge will weigh that heavier. In Ohio, there is no set age limit in which a child can have preference; it is instead up to the judge to decide if they are developed enough to make an informed decision. If an eight year old gives solid testimony on why they want to live with one parent over the other that shows off an amount of intelligence on the matter instead of statements like “because they’re nice,” then a judge may just put weight into that.
When it comes to a child’s preference, age isn’t the only thing that matters. The judge will also make their decision based on maturity and intelligence as well. This can be important if your child has special needs, since just because they are older, this doesn’t mean the judge will deem them to be developed enough to make a decision on their own.
How a Child’s Preference is Declared
Nobody wants their child to take the stand during a custody hearing; or even be in the courtroom during such a contentious time. However, a child’s preference isn’t heard in a courtroom. This doesn’t mean a parent brings in a letter or affidavit either, since both can easily be falsified. Instead, the judge will dispatch an appointed official, such as a social worker, therapist, or a Guardian ad Litem to go speak with your child individually and outside of a court setting. In some cases, the child may even meet with the judge in their chambers. In both settings, it is unlikely parents will be able to attend so as to not somehow sway opinion.
It is also important to note that in cases where a child is old enough for their preference to have sway, they can choose to live with someone other than their parents. Grandparents and aunts or uncles can also be viable options if the child and other party wishes it. Furthermore, if there’s been long documented care of the child by relatives, this can have more merit to a judge.
If you are starting a divorce and worry about child custody, contact us today. The Dungan & LeFevre Law Firm practices in a wide variety of legal areas, but we know that family law can often be the most difficult. Let us help you through this troubling time.