At What Age Can a Child Decide Where to Live?

When it comes to children and custodial issues before family court there is no "magical age," says family law attorney Jeanne M. Hannah. As far as the courts are concerned, children are defined as legal incompetents who don't have the ability to make sound legal choices. The court does, however, take into account any statements children make in regard to living preferences.

While, technically, children don't have any legal rights in choosing where they want to live, in reality, the right of children to have input on this important decision varies from state to state, Hannah states. Child custody cases depend on facts and family dynamics that are unique to each case. The court acts as a third party in these situations and, therefore, finds it difficult to make child custody decisions. Judges have a lot of leeway in allowing children to weigh in on the matter.

Judges consider more than just a child's age when it comes to a child's preference to live with one parent over another, Hannah states. They look deeper into the reasons a child has a preference. A child's level of maturity is another factor. For instance, some children are very articulate in expressing their views about parents and home life. Judges also take into account any special needs children may have, such as schooling. The child's best interest is always a major factor in custody decisions.