Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live With in New Jersey?
If you have questions or concerns about whether or not your child can choose the parent they want to live with, reach out to our skilled Morris County NJ child custody attorneys.
How old must a child be to weigh into child custody?
All states permit judges to assess the preference of a child in a custody case, so long as they see the child is adequately mature. You may have questions about when a child is considered to be mature in New Jersey. Keep in mind that most states do not set a certain age, including New Jersey, instead of letting judges decide case by case.
How does a child’s opinion fit into custody determinations?
Keep in mind that a judge never has to award custody according to a child’s wishes. Other factors, including each parent’s criminal history and bond with the child, always come into play.
Furthermore, a judge attempts to evaluate whether a child’s preference for one parent is due to influence or leniency by that parent, which would give the choice less validity from the court’s viewpoint.
For example, a 15-year-old may not get to live with her mom as she wishes if evidence shows the mother lets her drive without a license. On the other hand, a 12-year-old with definite reasons for choosing a proper parent could have a significant influence on a judge’s order.
How do children share these opinions?
Children generally do not testify about their choices in court because the environment can be emotional and frightening.
Rather, they typically share their thoughts in discussion with the judge, a custody evaluator, or someone appointed by the court to represent their interests (like a guardian ad litem).
Interviews with the judge usually occur in the judge’s office and are therefore understood as in-chambers or in-camera hearings. Generally, a court reporter and the child’s legal representative are present. In some cases, the parents’ attorneys are also allowed in but not the parents themselves.
Some judges ask the child directly who they would like to live with, while others only ask corresponding questions like, “What do you do for fun with your dad?” In some states, both parents must consent before the child may speak with a judge. Reach out to our firm today if you have further questions. Our New Jersey divorce and family law attorneys are on your side.
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