Whenever there is a divorce a tremendous burden is put upon the children to determine which parent they will be living with. The question sometimes arises as what age children must be in order for them to voice that choice.
Contrary to myth, there is no legal age when children can make such a decision about which parent they would choose to live with after a divorce. Mental health professionals and Family Law Courts recommend that the decision of where children will reside should be the decision of the parents, not the children. These children need to know that their parents will continue to make safe and nurturing decisions for them, even after the divorce. Asking children where they want to live creates great conflict and guilt, as children want to have both parents in their lives. If children believe that they need to select the "favored parent" there often is a fear that the "non chosen parent" will disappear out of their lives.
The older a child is, the greater weight is placed on the child’s preference for custody. The court looks at the child’s age, often giving greater weight to an older child’s preference for custody. In addition, the court considers other factors regarding custody, including the emotional functioning of both the children and the parents.
If the parents cannot come to a mutual parenting plan but can agree on using a mental health professional to assist them in developing a custody plan, then it is recommended that the child talk with a child and adolescent counselor/psychologist. Many times children feel less stress if they can discuss their feelings regarding custody with a neutral professional. Then the child psychologist can meet with the parents to discuss custody options.
Finally, if the parents cannot agree on the use of a child psychologist, then the court can order that the parents and children participate in a court ordered child custody evaluation. A mental health professional, usually a psychologist, will interview both the parents and the children. After completing the evaluation, the child custody evaluator will make recommendations to the court regarding custody. It is always preferable if the parents can come to a mutual agreement on the custody of their children rather than having the court make orders for them.