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Can Children Choose Which Parent to Live with After Divorce?

Resolving physical placement disputes are seldom easy for parents.  Many parents who have a strong relationship with their child may believe that the child's preference should be the deciding factor. Some parents believe that as a teen nears adulthood, they have the right to choose where to live. The courts, however, resolve custody and placement disputes with one goal, serving the best interests of the child.

Children are generally not mature enough to make the decision

Judges know that children mature and learn to use reason as they age, but the courts also recognize that children are not mature enough to make adult decisions. It is important to note that any child under the age of 18 is still a child. In reality, children never have the final say or decision-making authority concerning custody and placement issues.

Courts may evaluate the preferences of children and their reasons

That is not to say that the court will not weigh the child's preferences among the many factors in determining the best interests of the child. The court will consider the wishes of the child. Courts prefer to receive the information from a guardian ad litem or other professional to keep the kids out of the court proceedings. Similarly, courts often frown when parents place their kids in the middle of custody and placement disputes.

The reasons the child may choose a parent may also be important for the court such as abuse or neglect. Yet, superficial reasons, such as liking one parent's rules more than the other, may show that the child simply enjoys the more lenient rules.

Because Wisconsin law allows judges, guardian ad litems, and other professionals who present evidence in custody and placement disputes to consider the wishes of the child, some parents may have the misconception that children can choose where to live. In the end, the preference of the child is only one factor. Children do not have the right to choose where to live after divorce.

As a child matures, the court may give more weight to the preference of the child. Judges may evaluate the maturity of the child, in light of the reasons for the preferences, in weighing the evidence. Judges know that some 14-year-old children are more qualified to exercise judgment than some individuals who are 17 years old.

Understanding legal custody and physical placement

Legal custody involves determining who will have decision-making authority in raising the children. Allocating physical placement involves determining where the children will live and for what periods of time. It is presumed that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. Children generally fare better when they have the support and guidance from both parents. Having a relationship with both parents is also important, in the absence of abuse and neglect.

Divorcing parents should speak with an experienced child custody lawyer for guidance in creating a workable custody and placement arrangement the serves the best interests of the child. A divorce lawyer can explain your legal options, negotiate with the other party and provide solid advocacy to obtain the best possible results.

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