When Can a Child Influence the Custody Arrangement?
Under the Code of Virginia Section 20-124.3, the child’s preference is one of the nine specific elements used to determine the best interests of the child in relation to child custody and visitation. Under the law, the judge can take into consideration “[t]he reasonable preference, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference.” Clearly, not all children are entitled to voice a preference or for their preference to be valued. Some are too young or do not understand the situation well enough.
Your Child’s Age
Your child’s age is the first and most obvious measure of whether or not he or she is ready to give an opinion on where he or she should live. There is no age at which your child’s view becomes appropriate or necessary to a custody case. Obviously, the older your child the more likely a judge will listen to his or her opinion. Your 15-year-old is likely old enough to understand the importance of this decision. However, your 12-year-old may or may not and your 5-year-old will certainly not.
If your child has expressed a preference regarding custody, tell your attorney. Your lawyer may be able to speak with your child and gauge whether or not it would be appropriate to submit his or her opinion to the court.
Your Child’s Intelligence and Understanding
While your child’s age can be a good measure of whether he or she is ready to participate in a custody case, it is not enough to make this decision. A court will look at your child’s reasonable intelligence and understanding as well. This is crucial since not all children are at the same intellectual or maturity level at the same age. Additionally, a child with a learning deficiency or medical condition may not have the capability of fulling understanding the situation despite his or her advanced age.
It is up to the court to determine if your child is mature enough to give a preference on custody. A judge may want to speak with your child to determine his or her age, intelligence, and understanding. You should speak with your attorney about this process and whether or not your child should get involved in a custody battle.
A Court Looks at Your Child’s Reasonable Preference
The court is not simply going to do what your child wants in regard to custody. Instead, the court will take a child’s reasonable preference into consideration in conjunction with other important factors. A child’s reasonable preference must be based on what would actually be a good, healthy, and safe situation. If you child’s preference is based on which parent he or she believes is more fun or lenient, then the court will not consider this opinion.
Contact a Leesburg Child Custody Lawyer for Help
If you are involved in a custody case right now and your child is voicing an opinion on where he or she wants to live, call the Leesburg experienced attorneys of Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC at 703-997-4982. We are eager to assist you with your case.