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Can a child choose which parent has custody?

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2023 | Child Custody

When parents decide to separate or divorce, one of the most pressing issues they face is determining where their child will live.

In New Jersey, as in many states, the court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child. However, parents often wonder if their child can have a say in the decision about which parent they will live with.

The child’s best interests

Ultimately, the court’s goal is to ensure the custody arrangements meet the child’s best interests. In approximately 22% of custody cases, the courts opt for shared custody. If a child expresses a strong desire to live with one parent, the court will listen to their input. However, this does not mean that the child’s preference is automatically honored. The judge will consider various factors, including:

  • The child’s age, maturity, and ability to make a reasoned decision.
  • The physical and emotional well-being of both parents.
  • The stability of each parent’s home environment.
  • The child’s relationships with siblings and extended family members.
  • The child’s adjustment to their current school, community, and daily routine.

The courts will also factor in any history of abuse, neglect, or substance abuse by either parent.

The role of a Guardian ad Litem

In some cases, the court may appoint a Guardian ad Litem to investigate and make recommendations regarding the child’s best interests. The GAL will interview the child, both parents, and other relevant parties. Their role is to provide an unbiased perspective to the court, helping judges make informed decisions.

While a child’s preference may influence the court’s decision, it is not the sole determining factor. If circumstances change over time, parents can seek to change custody arrangements.


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