Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live With?

Most divorcing or separating parents have serious concerns and questions about child custody. The parents may no longer get along, but they usually want to do everything they can to have strong relationships with their children, and where the kids live has a lot to do with that. 

Many parents in Minnesota think that if their kids are old enough, the kids will get to choose which parent they live with, and if the child picks the other parent then that’s just tough luck. 

That is simply not the case. Minnesota law does not allow minor children to decide which parent they live with. 

A Child’s Preference Can Be Considered, But It Is Only One Factor

When determining child custody and parenting time, Minnesota courts are required to reach an arrangement that is in the “best interests of the child.” Judges must analyze 12 factors as part of this determination. 

If the child is old enough and mature enough, then the court can consider the child’s preferences. But those preferences are just one of the 12 factors; a court will look at all the other factors too, and not simply do what the child wants.

For more detail about the custody factors in Minnesota, visit our child custody page.

How Old Does a Child Have to Be to Express an Opinion on Custody?

Minnesota law does not have a specific rule stating that a child of a certain age is automatically old enough to express a custody preference. Instead, the law says courts must consider “the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age, ability, and maturity to express an independent, reliable preference.” 

Generally speaking, kids less than 11 or 12 years old don’t often get to have their opinions heard. And, if they do, those opinions aren’t usually given much weight simply because the child is so young. Beyond 12 years old, children’s opinions start to matter more because they are getting to an age where they can rationalize things independently. 

Sometimes a Child’s Opinion Has No Bearing On the Case

There are some situations where a child’s preferences will not play any role in the judge’s ultimate custody decision. For example, a child’s preferences don’t carry much weight when:

  • The child is too young to articulate a rational opinion
  • The child is old enough but lacks sufficient mental or intellectual capacity
  • A parent has pressured or influenced a child into saying certain things

Practical Realities With Teenagers

When children are young, courts can enforce custody arrangements by holding parents responsible for failing to exchange the kids when required. But once a child gets to be 16 or so and has a driver’s license, things change. Teenagers might start to “vote with their feet,” staying with one parent more often no matter what the custody order says. 

Courts can’t really sanction teenagers for refusing to visit a parent, and sanctioning the parent doesn’t make a lot of sense when it’s the teen’s refusal that is causing the issue. In these situations, the parents may need to have discussions with each other and the teen to try to work it out. 

Get Child Custody Advice From Our Elk River Law Firm

White & Associates offers a free initial consultation to all new family law clients. Our attorneys are here to help you resolve your child custody issues to the best of our ability. Give us a call at 763-241-0477 or contact our Elk River office online.