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How Old Does a Child Have to Be To Choose Which Parent They Want to Live With?

child thinking

As a divorce lawyer for almost twenty years, one of the most common and frequently asked questions I get is about when children get to decide which parent they live with. Similar to almost all issues in a divorce or family law matter, the answer is not simple and is generally that “it depends” based on a variety of circumstances.

Child custody, of course, can be re-evaluated at any time. Thus, just because a certain parenting or custody arrangement is in the best interests of a child or children at a given time does not mean that six months down the road a new arrangement may be needed for the child or children.

When clients often ask if there is a magic number or age when a child can choose their residence or parenting plan or arrangement or custody, the simple answer is no.

When A Child Is Under Age 18 How Much Say So Do They Have?

While the child’s wishes is one of many factors that a court has to look at in making child custody decisions, in neither Kansas nor Missouri, does the law allow the judge to make a decision about child custody based on solely the request of the child as to their custody or living arrangements. For example, in Missouri, the child’s wishes is only one of eight factors under 452.375 RSMo that the court is required to consider in making a decision for a child’s custody. In Kansas, under K.S.A. 23-3203, there are eighteen factors of child custody (many of which are similar to the factors in Missouri but further divided or separated into individual factors) and the wishes of the child are but one of these factors.

During a child custody case, both Kansas and Missouri have procedures to allow a child’s wishes about their custody to be expressed to the judge. However, the child’s wishes being expressed does not mean that the judge has to honor those wishes. Generally, the older the child is, the more deference that will be given to the child’s wishes, however, there are still caveats in that if an older child “wishes” to live with a parent who is giving them too much freedom or independence (for example, allowing them access to drugs or alcohol or having sexual interactions with a boyfriend or girlfriend), the court may determine that while a child “wishes” to live with a parent, that their wish or desire is contrary to their best interests. In both Kansas and Missouri, while a child is under the age of eighteen, neither state’s law provides an opportunity for the child to have full control or decision-making authority over where he or she lives. In both, Kansas or Missouri, if a child’s needs and wishes is a controverted topic, your case will likely receive the appointment of a guardian ad litem to assist the judge with learning about your child’s wishes, as well, importantly to the court, the motivations behind those wishes. The goal behind this process is to allow the child to share their thoughts, opinions and wishes without feeling questioned or pressured by either parent.

When My Child Turns 18, Can He Or She Choose Where They Live?

Yes, at age 18, they are considered an adult and the court will no longer direct where the child lives. The child, at this age, is an adult and can truly make their own decision about where they live.

Prior to the age of 18, while the child’s desires are taken into consideration by the court, their wishes are not a deciding factor. Often, for most judges, more important to them than the child’s wishes is the reasons or motivations behind the wishes that the child shares.

Can We Help You?

If you have questions or concerns about custody of your children, you need an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney to answer those questions and provide expert support, input and guidance. Call us today at Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 to serve your family!

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