In all states, there is a common misconception that parents have about
divorce and child custody. They often think that when a child reaches the age
of 12, 13, or 14 (depending on the state), that their child has the power
to choose which parent to live with. As a general rule, this is not the case.
As a standard rule, family court judges are interested in hearing about
a child’s preference if their parents are locked in a
child custody battle. Some states strongly encourage judges to consider a child’s
wishes regardless of age, while others have laws on the books that say
a judge has to consider a child’s wishes if he or she is usually
between 12 and 14. But in virtually all states, the ultimate decision
is the judge’s, not the child’s.
What Is the Law in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania law does not set a minimum age threshold before a child’s
wishes will be considered. For example, the law doesn’t say that
a child has to be 12 or 13 before a judge will listen to them. Instead,
Pennsylvania judges are generally interested in a child’s wishes,
but that does not mean a child’s wishes will control the outcome
of the child custody case.
Ultimately, it has to do with the child’s age, intelligence, maturity,
and ability to reason. If a judge agrees to hear a child’s wishes,
it does not mean that the child will testify in open court. Instead, the
child will meet with the judge in his or her chambers (the judge’s
office) and with each parent’s attorneys present in the room.
When Will a Judge Rule Based on the Child's Opinion?
The child’s maturity and ability to reason are important. For example,
if a 12-year-old boy chooses his dad because he has no rules and promised
him a new car on his 16th birthday, no weight will be given to his opinion.
On the other hand, if a 13-year-old girl prefers to live with her mother
because she is staying in the family home close to the school as opposed
to her father who is moving 60 miles away to move in with his new girlfriend,
the same judge will be more inclined to give weight to this child’s opinion.
If the parents are fighting over custody and they’re both loving,
responsible adults and a mature, reasonable child gives valid reasons
for choosing one parent over the other, the child’s wishes may tip
the scales in the preferred parent’s favor.
Do Moms Have an Unfair Advantage in Divorce?