It might surprise you to learn that California does make provisions for the child’s preference in custody cases. Family Code section 3042 outlines how and when the child’s choice is used.
Can a child just say they want to live with Mom or Dad? No. Family Court judges have discretion when it comes to each individual case. Some of the factors they take under consideration include parental influence, maturity, conditioning, and they often role play with the parents while the court listens and learns from the child.
The Base Requirements
- The child must be of sufficient age and capacity to make such a decision.
- The court has control over the examination of the child witness in order to protect his or her best interests.
- A child under 14 years of age may address the court regarding visitation and custody as long as the court agrees to hear testimony.
The laws of California have drawn a line at the age of 14 as a general guideline. They believe this is when a minor child has the maturity and capacity to make reasonable and relevant decisions for the right reasons. Each case is different and some children mature faster or slower than others.
At the end of the day, the court still has discretion and will make a decision based on the best interest of the child regardless of what the child says. Sometimes the court will agree with the child and sometimes they won’t.
The Court’s Discretion
- The location of the testimony
- Who can be present during the testimony
- The questions and manner of questioning for the testimony
- Evaluator or investigator selection/appointment
The goal is for the Family Court to look for signs of emotional or physical abuse, parental influence or conditioning, alienation, or other influences the court may surmise from their testimony and demeanor.
The court may assign a legal representative for the minor child when necessary. Likewise, it’s not uncommon for a psychological examination to play a role in child custody, especially when it’s contested or where the child has a preference.
Some cases can be resolved through mediation, while others will have to endure litigation that can last several days to months depending on the situation. It’s rare for child custody decisions to go on for years. The minor child will only be a minor for so long.
No matter what, the best interests of the child will be upheld to the best of the Family Court’s ability given the information and data they can gather. Each individual case is handled on its own merit, which means some precedence may be dismissed by the court.
If your child has a preference and you would like them to have their say, you should consult with a Riverside attorney. The initial consultation is free at Riverside Family Law, so you risk nothing by talking with them.