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Do Children in California Get to Choose Which Parent They Live With After a Divorce?

Posted on April 15th, 2024

Divorce is a difficult process for everyone involved, especially children. One of the most challenging aspects can be determining child custody arrangements. In California, like in many other states, the law prioritizes the child’s best interests. This begs the question, can children in California choose which parent they live with after a divorce?


A Voice, Not a Final Say

California law allows children to express their preference regarding which parent they would like to live with primarily. However, it is important to understand that a child’s preference is just one factor considered by the court. The judge has the final say in determining custody arrangements.

Age Matters, But Maturity Matters More

There’s no specific age at which a child’s opinion automatically holds more weight. California Family Code Section 3042 states the court must consider a child’s preference “if the child is of sufficient age and capacity to form an intelligent opinion on the issue.” In simpler terms, the judge will consider the child’s maturity level and ability to understand the situation clearly.

Generally, children around 12 or 13 years old are considered old enough to express their preferences. However, this is not a strict rule. A bright and mature 10-year-old might have their voice heard more than a less mature 14-year-old.

What Factors Does the Court Consider?

Here are some key factors a California judge will weigh alongside the child’s preference when determining custody arrangements:

  • Each parent’s relationship with the child: The court will examine the quality and nature of the child’s relationships with each parent. This includes factors like emotional attachment, history of interaction, and the ability to provide for the child’s emotional and physical needs.
  • The parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment: The judge will assess each parent’s home environment, including stability, safety, and ability to meet the child’s daily needs.
  • The child’s emotional well-being: The court prioritizes the child’s mental and emotional health. This could involve considering the child’s existing relationships, school environment, and potential disruption caused by significant changes.
  • The parent’s willingness to facilitate a healthy relationship with the other parent: The judge will look for a parent who encourages and supports the child’s relationship with the other parent, even during challenging times.

How Can a Child’s Voice Be Heard?

There are several ways a child’s preference can be communicated to the court:

  • Through a lawyer appointed to represent the child (Guardian ad Litem): In some cases, the court may appoint a lawyer specifically for the child. This lawyer, called a Guardian ad Litem, will interview the child and represent their best interests in court.
  • Through a Child Custody Evaluator (CCE): A CCE is a mental health professional who conducts interviews with the child, parents, and potentially others involved. The CCE then presents a report to the court outlining its findings and recommendations, which may include the child’s preferences.
  • Directly to the judge (in rare cases): Sometimes, a judge may directly interview the child in chambers (a private judge’s office) to understand their preferences. This is typically done with older children and with the consent of both parents and their lawyers.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

Here are some tips for parents during a child custody case:

  • Avoid putting pressure on your child to choose a side. This can be a very difficult situation for children, and they shouldn’t feel forced to take sides.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about their feelings. Let them know it is okay to have mixed emotions and that you’re there to listen.
  • Focus on what’s best for your child in the long run, not your feelings towards your ex-partner.
  • Consider mediation or collaborative law to resolve custody issues outside of court. This can be a less stressful approach for everyone involved, especially children.

It is Always Best to Seek Professional Guidance

It is very important to know that every divorce and child custody case is unique. If you are facing a divorce, it is crucial to seek guidance from an experienced family law attorney at Harris Family Law Group. A qualified attorney will advise you on your specific situation, represent you in court, and help ensure your child’s voice is heard throughout the process.

Harris Family Law Group is Here to Help

At Harris Family Law Group, we understand the complexities of child custody arrangements in California. Our experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting you and your child’s interests and guiding you through this challenging time. Contact us today for consultation by calling 310-745-8644 we are here to help.