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When Do Courts Consider the Child’s Wishes in Custody Cases?

Child custody is one of the most important and potentially contentious elements of any divorce. Parents can work out their own custody arrangements outside of court as part of an uncontested divorce, but if they cannot come to their own agreements, the decision is left up to a Supreme Court Justice in the case of a divorce or a Family Court Judge.

The judge’s primary guideline for setting custody arrangements is to determine what is in the best interests of the child. However, there are some cases in which the child’s own opinion may be considered and given at least a small degree of importance in the judge’s decision.

When determining whether they will ask for a child’s opinion and to what degree they will listen to that opinion, judges will consider the following factors:

  • The age and maturity level of the child
  • Whether the child displays any hostility toward either parent
  • The reasons the child presents when voicing his or her preferences
  • Whether any other siblings have any preferences

Even after analyzing these factors, judges will be very careful about the weight they give to a child’s preferences in custody battles. A big reason for this is that children are susceptible to undue influence from their parents. Parents in contentious divorce cases may attempt to garner favor with their children with bribes, or may try to purposefully poison the child’s relationship with the other parent. The judge will very carefully analyze the situation to see if these factors are present.

Even if the judge does take the child’s preferences into account, it is just one of many factors the judge will consider. The judge must also look at the benefits of keeping the child with his or her siblings, each parent’s fitness to have custody and the income levels of each parent.

For further guidance on child custody and related issues in a divorce, meet with a skilled family law attorney at Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, LLP.