Do Courts Consider a Child’s Preference in Custody Determinations?

Sad boy looking camera while his parents argue

When parents separate or divorce with minor children, child custody becomes a common concern. While parents can create a parenting plan, conflict may arise. If parents cannot agree, the court will decide the issue, developing a plan that promotes the child’s overall well-being. While the court’s deicsion is based on several factors, many parents are curious about whether their child’s preference will weigh on the court’s decision. Please continue reading to learn whether judges can consider the child’s custodial preference in Massachusetts and why connecting with our trusted Bristol County Child Custody Lawyers is in your best interest. 

How Does the Court Decide Custody?

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand that there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to decide on the child’s upbringing. On the other hand, physical custody refers to where the child will primarily reside. Depending on the unique circumstances of a case, a judge can award both types of custody to one or both parents. This decision will be based on the child’s best interests.

As mentioned above, a judge must decide when parents disagree on child custody. It’s important to understand that Massachusetts law doesn’t list specific factors that a judge must consider. Instead, all courts are required to evaluate the child’s health and safety. Therefore, the court will often examine the following factors to determine an appropriate parenting arrangement:

  • The age and number of children
  • Each parent’s fitness
  • Each parent’s physical and mental health
  • Each parent’s ability to care and provide for the child
  • Each parent’s willingness to foster the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Each parent’s income and earning capacity
  • Each parent’s standard of living
  • The geographical proximity of the parent’s homes
  • Any history of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or sexual abuse
  • Any history of drug or alcohol addiction
  • The child’s preference (if of sufficient age)
  • Any other relevant factors

Will the Court Consider a Child’s Preference Regarding Custody?

Many parents wonder what age their child can express their parental preference. In Massachusetts, children can’t decide where they will live until they are at least 18 years old. However, the courts can consider a child’s custodial preference if the child is mature enough to provide a rational opinion.

There is no specific age when a judge will consider a child’s preference. Typically, judges will consider older teenagers’ opinions more heavily than younger children’s. This is because they can make intelligent decisions based on sound reasoning. With younger children, there is always the risk that parents will wrongfully influence a child to express a particular opinion. The court will evaluate whether a parent has coached a child or is rebelling against a parent. Nevertheless, the court will not base its decision solely on a child’s parental preference.

If you are facing an issue about child custody, please don’t hesitate to contact a dedicated lawyer from The Law Offices of Cynthia L. Hanley, P.C., who can help protect your rights and your relationship with your children.