Wednesday, June 04, 2008

IS TWELVE A MAGIC NUMBER?

Nope. Not when it comes to family law, anyway.

There’s a popular misconception that when a child turns twelve, he or she can choose which parent he or she wants to live with.

The truth is that while the preference of the child may be relevant when making custody decisions, there is no specific age at which the preference automatically decides the issue.

A more accurate saying is: babies go where you put them, children go where they’re told, and teenagers vote with their feet. But in practice, each case turns on its own facts. The preferences of children as young as eight and nine has been considered by judges in some cases. This is especially true where the child appears to be mature and thoughtful for his or her age. However, the child’s preference does not bind the judge, whose decision must always be based on the overall best interests of the child. If the child’s desire is based on poor reasons or there are other, more important facts, the judge may grant custody to the other parent. However, by the time a child is near adulthood, judges will generally recognize that a custody order that contradicts the child’s preference will be impractical.

So now you know: there’s no magical number, just a practical spectrum.

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