At What Age Does a Child Get to Choose Where They Want to Live?
“My daughter doesn’t like living at Dad’s house. What’s the age in Arizona when she gets to decide?” As a child custody attorney I hear this and similar questions about once a week. The simple answer is there is no law in Arizona that specifies a particular age when a child gets to decide. The law to determine parenting time and legal decision-making (custody), A.R.S. § 25-403; however, does require the court to consider a child’s wishes if “the child is of a suitable age and maturity.”
So when is a child of suitable age and maturity?
Many judges will allow an interview of a child if the child is over 8 years old. This is a general rule and it is up to the judge’s discretion. I have seen one judge refuse to have a 12 year old interviewed because he believed 12 year olds were not mature enough (the judge had a 12 year old.); however, the judge will determine the weight that s/he gives to what the child said in an interview.
The Judge will probably not put a lot of weight to a child saying something such as “I like being at Mom’s house more because I get to play video games and don’t have to do chores.” The Judge will likely give much more weight to a child saying “Dad yells a lot and is gone a lot.” In the first example, the child is simply looking for a more fun house with less rules. In the second example, there may be abuse and neglect.
Understand as well that if the court orders an interview, the children are usually not asked “Where do you want to live?” Instead there is usually a variation of some of the following questions: “What do you like about your Mom/Dad?” “What do you wish was different about your Mom/Dad?” “How do you like your current schedule?” Answers to broader questions like this will allow the court to determine maturity and what is motivating the child.
If you are tempted to speak with your child and help him/her in how to respond to the interviewer’s questions, I strongly recommend that you do not. Interviewers can often tell if a child has been coached and will report that. I have received some very good rulings, which I may not have otherwise received, because the Judge believed the other parent was coaching the children.
Child interviews can have a major impact in your case, so you should carefully consider the pros and cons. You should consult with an experienced child custody attorney. I am happy to provide you with a free consultation, where we can discuss this and any other question you may have about your case. Please call my office at (480) 833-1113 to schedule your appointment.