Divorce is hard on the entire family, but it is often most difficult for the children. The idea of living with just one parent, or going back and forth between two different homes, and not seeing each of their parents as often as they are accustomed to is extremely stressful for children. If a child has a preference regarding who they will live with post-divorce, parents may think complying with it will make the divorce process easier on them.
However, the decision is not left up to the parents, particularly when the child’s preference is not in their best interests. Even when parents agree, the court will intervene if the arrangement would be harmful to the child. The courts will also consider the age of any child who has a custody preference. So, what age can a child choose custody in Arizona?
What Age Can a Child Choose Custody in Arizona?
Arizona law does not outline a specific age a child has to be before they can choosechild custody in Arizona. As such, a young child may be able to specify a preference, while an older child may not be given the same opportunity.
Still, the courts generally give more weight to the preference of older children, such as teenagers, than they do younger children. This is because older children can typically express themselves more intelligently and more distinctly. Older children are also considered to be more mature, meaning they are typically better able to make decisions for themselves.
When a child states a preference regarding child custody, the courts will take many other factors into consideration. These include:
Whether the child wants to testify, even if the testimony is only heard by a judge,
How the child’s preference will affect them psychologically, and
The relevance of the child’s testimony to the judge.
How is a Child’s Testimony Heard?
Generally speaking, it is presumed that it is not in a child’s best interests to testify in open court. Doing so is extremely stressful for children and can harm the relationship between them and their parents as they are exposed to more conflict. In order to hear a child’s testimony and their preference, there are many other ways a child can testify.
In some cases, children can provide a custody evaluator or a therapist with their testimony. The professional will then report back to the court about their findings. Minor children also often testify in the judge’s chambers. The parents are not present, so they cannot influence the child’s statements. However, a court reporter is sometimes necessary to record the testimony given. Judges have the authority to determine whether the recording will be kept confidential or whether it will be heard in court.
Parents must agree to allow their children to testify outside of the courtroom. This issue alone is one that can become quite complex. It is important to work with an Arizona family lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help you decide whether you want your child to testify.
How Will the Court Decide On a Child’s Preference?
The court will consider many factors when deciding whether to grant a child their preference. One of the main factors considered is whether the decision is an intelligent one. This means the reason must be nearly sure to be long-term and not something short-term. For example, a judge may decide in favor of the child’s preference based on a lasting and loving relationship with their parent. If, on the other hand, the reason for the child’s preference was because the home is close to their summer soccer camp, a judge would be less likely to give the preference as much weight.
For a judge to decide in a child’s favor, the preference must also be based on something material, or important, and not something superficial. For example, if a child preferred to stay with their mother because their mom let them stay up late and was not strict about homework, that is not a critical reason the judge would consider. Lastly, judges will also determine whether one parent has coached their child into providing testimony in their favor.
Contact Our Experienced Family Lawyer in Arizona
If you have a child custody dispute, ourArizona family lawyer at Singular Law Group, PLLC, can help with your case. Call us now or reach out to us online to schedule a consultation and to learn more about your rights and legal options.