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Does my child’s opinion matter in my California custody case?

In any divorce action involving children, the most important decisions will always revolve around the care and well-being of the kids. For most of us, our children are the most significant elements in our lives. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why child custody disputes are often the most hotly contested issues in any divorce.

Divorcing parents need to understand that California family courts are mandated to make decisions regarding custody based on the best interests of the children involved. In California, a child is considered a minor until he or she reaches the age of 18. That means that unless a child has been emancipated, he or she does not get to decide where he or she will live. However, California law allows judges to consider a child's wishes when determining which parent will receive primary custody.

There is no set age limit in which a judge may interview a child regarding their wishes, this is determined on a case-by-case basis. Generally, a judge who has learned that a child would prefer to live with one parent rather than the other will look at several factors. A judge will basically attempt to strike a balance between his or her duty to protect the child, a legal duty to consider the child's wishes and the fairness of the child's input towards the involved parties.

More specifically, a court may question the reason that the child might prefer to live with one parent instead of the other. For example, a judge may examine whether the level of stability in the child's preferred home also conducive to his or her development. The court may also investigate whether the child has been pressured or manipulated into making his or her opinion.

The point is that child custody disputes can and often do involve the input of children. If you are currently contemplating divorce, you should know how to avoid doing or saying something that might jeopardize your custody case. Your California family law attorney can assist you with developing a viable strategy aimed at obtaining a favorable child custody outcome.

Source: The Superior Court of Orange County California, "Custody & Visitation" accessed Jan. 21, 2015

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