Can a Child Choose Which Parent to Live With in Pennsylvania?

Child on swing, between parents.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 lave 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?

In Pennsylvania, there is no minimum age for a child to express his or her wishes for custody. There are no specific laws that state a child must be 12 or 13. The judges are more interested in hearing about the child's wishes, which are considered in the overall 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.

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.

Related: Do Moms Have an Unfair Advantage in Divorce?