Is a Child’s Preference Considered During Custody Determinations?

judge with gavel and cartoon family

Making decisions on child custody during a divorce can become emotional and bitter. There are many contributing factors that a court will consider when making a custody determination, one of which is the child’s preference. For help protecting your parental rights contact a Memphis, Tennessee child custody lawyer.

What Kinds of Custody Can Be Awarded?

Tennessee state law defines both physical and legal custody. Physical custody concerns the location of where the child resides and legal custody refers to decisions regarding the child’s health, religion, and education.

Custody arrangements can include joint physical and legal custody, sole physical and legal custody, or a combination of the two. A parent who is awarded sole legal custody might be able to make all major decisions regarding the child but share physical custody evenly with the other parent. Parents may also share both types of custody 50/50. The court’s decision will be made based on varying factors.

How is Child Custody Decided?

Courts in every state make child custody decisions with the main goal of doing what is in the child’s best interest. It has been proven that maintaining a relationship with both parents is beneficial to a child’s growth, development, self-esteem, and confidence. For that reason, a court will typically strive to create a joint custody agreement. However, joint custody is not always possible.

When determining what custody arrangement will work best for a family, a court needs to examine every aspect of the parents’ and child’s lives. Because of a child’s need for stability and safety, the following factors will be considered when determining custody.

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • Which parent has historically been the primary caregiver
  • Each parent’s financial ability to provide the child with food, shelter, clothing, education, etc.
  • The location of each parent’s residence
  • The mental and physical health of each parent
  • Whether or not either parent has a history of neglect, domestic violence, or substance abuse
  • The child’s preference, depending on age

Do Courts Consider a Child’s Preference?

Courts in every state can consider a child’s preference when making custody decisions, though it does not necessarily mean that their wish will come true. While Tennessee state law does not specify at which age a child can express their opinion on custody, generally a child aged 12 or older will have the opportunity to speak with a judge about their desires.

Depending on the unique circumstances of the family or case a judge may decide to consider the preference of a child under 12, but the older a child is the more seriously their preference will be taken. Young children are more susceptible to pressure and coaching from parents telling them what to say. It is up to the court to decipher if the child’s inclination toward one parent over the other is genuine or based on some questionable logic.

While the decision is ultimately up to the court, a child’s preference is always taken into account when deciding custody arrangements. It is one of many factors that are considered when determining what is in the child’s best interest.