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When Does a Child’s Preference Matter in Determining Custody?

Deciding where children will live and with whom can be one of the most difficult issues in a divorce, for everyone involved. A judge will make the initial decision regarding both legal custody (the authority to make important decisions about the child’s welfare) and physical custody (which determines where the child will actually live and how much time each parent will spend with the child). Parents can and should make their custody wishes clear to the court. But does a child have a say in where he or she lives? Parents may wonder if a Pennsylvania court will take a child’s preferences into consideration.

Judges weigh many factors when determining who will get physical custody, and in some cases, they may consider the child’s preferences. Pennsylvania custody law makes it clear that the child’s custody preferences need to be well-reasoned and expressed with maturity and judgment, although children don’t need to meet a certain age threshold for a judge to consider their custodial preferences.

While the child’s wishes will not dictate the overall outcome of the custody case, the child’s desires will carry some influence, provided they are deemed reasonable. A child’s preferences will carry more weight if both parents are considered suitable custodians.

In most cases, children who wish to express their custody preferences can do so in a private setting, such as a judge’s chambers. This environment affords the child more privacy and is less likely to be intimidating. The parents’ attorneys will need to be present when the judge speaks with the child, however, and they will also be able to ask the child questions, with a court reporter present to transcribe each question and answer for inclusion in an official record.

To learn more about how a child’s preferences can affect a judge’s decision regarding custody and visitation in Pennsylvania, consult with a Bucks County child custody attorney at The Law Offices of Jennifer Courtney & Associates, P.C. To schedule a consultation with us, call 215.493.3360 or contact our Yardley office online.

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