One of the most difficult parts of a divorce is the issue of child custody. Divorce splits families apart and decisions have to be made about visitation and custody. Some families opt for shared custody. Others have a primary custodial parent with visitation rights for the other parent. Sometimes, the parents can reach an agreement through mediation. Unfortunately, some divorces are contentious and both parties need to retain a family law attorney to help them through the process.
While family law courts try to resolve custody issues based on the best interests of the child or children involved, what happens when the children have an opinion about custody? Do they have a say in the custody decision or are they at the mercy of family law courts?
There are many false assumptions surrounding family law and custody. Some people believe that children under the age of twelve have no say in custody agreements. It’s a common belief that after a child turns twelve, he or she can make decisions about custody. Both of these assumptions are false. No matter what the child’s age, a family law court will be involved in a custody agreement.
In most states, the family law courts will consider the child’s opinion when it comes to custody. However, the child’s opinion is not the only factor the court considers. In most cases, a custody evaluator will talk with the child and determine what his or her wishes are. The child’s preferences will be considered no matter how old the child is. The evaluator is typically very experienced with interviewing children and can detect when the child is under pressure from a parent. The evaluator will report his or her findings to the judge. The child will not testify in court.
The family court may decide on a variety of custody arrangements based on parental fitness, living situations and the background of the parent. If either parent has an arrest record or documented drug and alcohol problems, supervised custody may be recommended. In other cases, parents will have joint custody of the child and share decision-making. There are a wide variety of custodial arrangements and the court will try to find an arrangement that best benefits the child or children.