Child custody decisions are often delicate and emotionally charged, especially when a child prefers one parent over another. As a parent, you may wonder when your children can voice his or her preference about where they want to live.
Arizona courts consider certain factors, including a child’s preference, before granting custody. However, the ultimate decision relies on protecting the child’s best interests.
This blog post discusses the legal aspects of child custody, focusing on when a child can choose their living arrangement.
Understanding Legal Terminology
In legal custody, the court grants parents the right to make decisions concerning the welfare and care of their children. It includes decisions about education, healthcare, religion, and general affairs.
Joint legal custody gives decision-making power to both parents, while sole legal custody grants it to one.
Parenting Time determines where the child will live. If the court grants equal parenting time, the child lives with both parents and spends equal time with them. However, if the court grants less than equal parenting time to one parent, the child will live primarily with the parent having more time and visits the parent with less parenting time.
Factors Influencing Child Custody Decisions
When parents separate, they must create a plan that prioritizes the best interest of their child. If they cannot, the court will create a plan for them based on these factors:
- The relationship between the parents and the child.
- The mental and physical health of the child and their parents.
- The child’s wishes, if they are mature and of a suitable age.
- The child’s adjustment to home and the community.
- Incidents of domestic violence or child abuse in the family.
- Conviction of either parent for false reporting of child abuse or neglect.
So, the court does consider the child’s preference, but only if they are old and mature enough.
The Role of the Child’s Age in Decision-Making
Arizona law does not specify a particular age at which it considers a child’s wishes. But, it mentions two evaluating factors:
- Suitable age
So, the more mature the child is, the more weight their decision may carry. For example, the court may not consider your child’s wishes if they are motivated by material incentives. Their wishes must reflect their best interests.
As each case is unique, the outcome depends on its unique factors. With the help of a child custody lawyer in Phoenix, you can navigate the legal process and understand how these factors may apply to your situation.
Arizona’s Guidelines on Child Involvement
Arizona’s laws keep children’s involvement minimal in legal proceedings. The judges do not want the child to be exposed to their parents’ dispute, as it can harm their mental health.
When a judge believes a child is of sufficient age to make a thoughtful choice, they can allow the child to express their preference in two ways:
The judge will consider the child’s interview report to assess their opinion regarding the desired custodian and visitation arrangement. These interviews typically take place at the courthouse or at the office of an independent third party appointed by the court, to ensure the child feels comfortable and not influenced by either parent.
- Appointment of a Court Advisor, a Child Custody Evaluator, or an Attorney
The court can appoint a child custody evaluator to interview the child and make a report on their custody preferences. Alternatively, the court can assign an attorney to interview the child and represent their interests in child custody proceedings. In highly complex cases, the court can assign a best interest attorney to the child.
Judicial Discretion and Child Preferences
Judicial discretion plays a crucial role in the entire child custody proceeding. Judges exercise this power to safeguard the child’s best interests.
When a child expresses their preference for living arrangements, judges use their discretionary power to weigh it according to the child’s best interest.
Furthermore, judges can use their discretionary power to modify the custody arrangement if things change later. The court’s primary goal is to prioritize the child’s needs and well-being.
Navigating the legal process of child custody can be complex and emotionally challenging. While the court considers the child’s preference in some cases, it also considers other factors.
If you’re going through a divorce and have concerns about your child, consult an experienced child custody lawyer from The Law Office of Cosmas Onyia. Do not overlook your child’s wishes. An experienced child custody lawyer can guide you through the complex custody process, answer all your questions, and help protect your child’s interests.