It’s not unusual for parents to attempt to build their custody case around the preference of a child toward one parent or another. A common question posed to attorneys is: How old does my child have to be before he or she can decide with whom they want to reside? There is no clear answer as to a definite age when a child can express their preference with respect to where they want to live. In fact, the Judge hearing the case has to determine what weight to give the child’s preference. As guidance, the Courts look to one of the 16 Pa. custody factors that states as follows:

“What is the well-reasoned preference of the child based on the child’s maturity and judgement? While children don’t have the ultimate decision, their opinion still matters and will be taken into account.”

Accordingly, the child’s preference is a factor but it is not the determining factor when the Judge is making his or her decision.

Children between the ages of 10 to 12 can usually communicate in generalities but typically can’t get into details of living with one parent or another to the extent necessary for a judge to make a clear and reasoned decision. Teenagers, however, generally can add to the family dynamics and give the presiding Judge a good idea of what’s going on in the home and who they would like to live with primarily.

Once it is decided that a child or children are going to testify, the presiding Judge will determine how it will be done. Judges, except in rare circumstances, will interview the child in his or her chambers. Judges will interview the child outside their parents’ presence. Interviewing the child outside the presence of the parent takes the pressure off the child and usually allows them to speak freely.

When contemplating having a child testify, legal counsel must be sure to notify the Court in advance so that all of the necessary procedures and timing are organized. It is best to ask the Court for a specific time to have the child testify.

The Mulligan Law Firm has helped many families navigate this very sensitive and challenging landscape. Our experienced family law lawyers have been finding solutions for families all over Northeast Pennsylvania for over 30 years. Contact us for a free consultation so we can provide the professional advice necessary to get you through a difficult situation.