Many people believe that ages 14 -15 is when a child gets to decide where to live when parents file for divorce. This sounds right but is not necessarily true. In Missouri child custody cases, there is no definite age when a child gets to “decide.”
The statute that the court is required to follow in custody matters weighs the wishes of the child after reviewing and quantifying the qualifying factors. This does not mean that the wishes of the child are not important, just that age and maturity are the big qualifiers. In addition, the ability to articulate reasons for preference without prejudice is given more weight. More commonly, we hear reasons like; “Dad is going to buy me a new car if I live with him”, or, “Mom says she will take me on a vacation if I live with her.” These serve as red flags that the parents are playing one against the other to the child’s detriment.
In determining custody, the court considers the wishes of the parents and the viability of their parenting plans. The relationship each parent has with the child and his or her siblings is also a factor. Other factors include the strength of the parenting plan, physical and emotional health, harmful habits, anticipated relocation plans, and disruptions of the child’s current lifestyle. Each child, each family, and each situation is unique.
An example is a case where a 15-year-old boy decides to live with his dad. His sister, who is five years younger, chooses to live with the mom. Sadly, the family is split in two. The 15-year-old son was fired up to live with his father because he promised him the use of computer equipment and games. The boy later had second thoughts after his father required him to work two jobs, causing his grades in high school to suffer.
Conversely, the daughter who chose to live with her mother was given the royal treatment. She was given second-hand treatment from her father because she did not choose to live with him. This is a case in which both parents played favorites. The court listened to the children’s wishes—both the mother and father have sole custody of one child and joint custody of the other child. Even when the court listens to the children’s wishes, the end result may not be beneficial to all parties.
Parents often want their children to tell the judge where they want to live, but putting the children in the middle can often be avoided. A Guardian ad Litem (an attorney appointed to represent the child’s best interests) may be appointed to interview and get to know the child and present a carefully prepared case without harming the parent/child relationship. Custody evaluations are also options in some cases.
At Stange Law Firm, we will be with you every step of the way. Our firm focuses entirely on family law. We have experienced attorneys who know the law and will passionately fight for your rights. Call 314-963-4700 for your free one-hour consultation or contact us at St. Louis MO Child Custody Law Firm.