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When Can a Child Choose What Parent to Live With?

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Parents who divorce in Novi, MI, and have minor children often face challenges regarding who their children will live with. Most assume the mother will be the custodial parent, but this is not always the case. No parent wants their child to be caught in the crossfire of a contentious custody battle. Divorce is difficult enough for children, who generally do not want to face choosing one parent over the other. Parents navigating custody may wonder: “Can a child choose who to live with?”. Those with questions or concerns may want to contact us to schedule a pre-engagement meeting with Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC, at 248-397-9606. 

Michigan Law and Child Custody

A child must be 18 years old to decide which parent they want to live with within Michigan. However, the court often considers the child’s preference and several other factors when determining which parent will have primary custody. According to MCL 722.23, the “best interests of the child” encompasses several factors the court will consider and evaluate in determining child custody and parenting time. These include:

  • Emotional bonds, love, and affection existing between the child and the parents
  • The ability and temperament of the involved parties to provide children love, guidance, and affection and continuance of education and raising the child in their religion, if applicable
  • Whether the parents are capable of providing clothing, food, medical care, and other remedial care for the child recognized under Michigan law
  • How long a child has lived in an environment that is stable and satisfactory, and the desire to maintain progression
  • Physical and mental health of the parents 
  • Moral fitness of the parents
  • Record of the child or children in terms of home, community, and school
  • When the child is determined by the court to be of sufficient age to express a reasonable preference
  • Domestic violence, whether witnessed by or directed upon the child
  • Other factors the court considers relevant in a specific child custody dispute

The court considers these and other factors when determining whether a child chooses who to live with in Novi.

Does a Child’s Opinion Matter to the Divorce Court?

Along with the factors outlined above, the judge may consider the child’s opinion or preference in some cases. Whether the child’s preference is considered in a child custody case depends on the child’s maturity, age, and ability to express a reasonable preference adequately. While a child cannot decide whether they will live with one parent or the other when younger than 18 years old, the judge ultimately decides on a custody dispute. 

When parents are on the equal ground regarding the factors considered in deciding child custody, the court may consider the child’s opinion to determine which parent is awarded custody. However, if it is clearly in the child’s best interest to be in the custody of one parent, the judge’s decision will not be swayed by the child. Judges give weight to the opinions of children who want a stable living environment. For instance, a child may desire to live with a parent who helps with homework, provides healthy meals, and actively participates in the child’s life. A child’s opinion will not be considered in situations such as:

  • The desire to live with a more lenient parent
  • Wanting to live in the bigger, more expensive home

The question, “Can a child choose who to live with?” is one that is not easily answered. Parents may want to visit Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC, for legal guidance in child custody matters.

Will the Child Have to Testify about Who They Want to Live With?

Testifying in court can be an emotional and frightening experience for a child, especially younger ones. When a child is mature enough and wants to be heard, judges may take it into consideration. It is important to note that the court may hear the child’s concerns and preferences in chambers, an informal setting where the parents and attorneys are not present. This, again, depends on the age and maturity of the child. Children can speak more openly in an informal setting and avoid what can be an emotionally and psychologically harmful experience for a child. 

When a child wants to testify, it is the judge’s discretion whether it will be permitted. In circumstances where there are allegations of illicit drug use by one parent, child abuse or neglect, or other factors that impact child custody, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem. A Guardian ad Litem speaks for the child regarding their concerns and opinions. In this situation, a child may still be allowed to testify in court.  

If My Child Changes Their Mind, Does That Matter?

Sometimes children change their minds about which parent they want to live with following a divorce. Unless the child is 18, they generally cannot decide who they will live with. A judge can modify a custody agreement, but it must be in the child’s best interest. Children and teens cannot choose to live with one parent simply because they allow more privileges or leniency than the other. Adhering to Michigan child custody laws, judges determine which parent provides a more stable environment that contributes to the child’s overall physical and emotional well-being. In most cases, the court order will stand regardless of whether a child changes their mind. 

Can a Child Choose Who to Live with in Michigan?

Parents often believe their children can choose to live with one parent or another following a divorce. Several states allow children to decide who they will live with at age 14. Some even allow it at the age of 12. This is not the case in Novi, MI, as children can only decide who they will live with at age 18. Extenuating circumstances may be considered, and every custody case is unique. In what circumstances can a child choose who to live with? Those needing skilled legal guidance and support may want to consider reaching out to Melissa Pearce & Associates, PLC, at 248-397-9606. 

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