A Kid Holding Hands with Divorced Parents

What Age Does a Child Get to Choose Which Parent to Live With?

Law Office of Shelly Jean John March 27, 2023

In California, children have the right to express their preference of which parent they would like to live with. This is done through a process known as “child’s preference.” However, this right is not extended to all children. The age at which a child can express their preference in California may depend on their individual circumstances and the judge's discretion. 

If you and your partner share minor children but want to get a divorce, you need to understand what goes into child custody determinations. As a child custody attorney at the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, I can explain California laws regarding custody determinations and ensure that your rights are protected in your out-of-court disputes and formal court proceedings. From my offices in Riverside and Ontario, California, I serve Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. 

Custody in California   

In California, there are two types of custody that must be addressed during divorce proceedings—legal and physical. Legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child’s welfare and upbringing, such as medical care and schooling. Physical custody is who the child lives with or spends time with. Joint legal and physical custody may be awarded when both parents agree, but one parent usually has primary physical custody while both parents share joint legal custody unless a court orders otherwise. 

How Is Custody Determined in California?  

The courts consider several factors when determining which parent should have primary physical or legal custody of a child. These include:  

  • The best interests of the child;   

  • The child’s health and welfare;  

  • The stability of each parent's home environment;  

  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the emotional and educational needs of the child;  

  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse by either parent;  

  • Any history of illegal use of controlled substances or alcohol;  

  • The amount of contact each parent had with the child prior to divorce proceedings; 

  • Each party's willingness to cooperate with one another in co-parenting arrangements; and 

  • Other factors that may be deemed relevant.  

Based on these factors, a court will determine which arrangement is best for everyone involved.  

What Is Visitation?  

After an initial custodial arrangement has been established, visitation rights may also be established for the parent who does not have primary physical custody over their children. Visitation is typically arranged so that the non-custodial parent can spend time with their children at certain times (such as weekends). Visitation may also include holidays or school breaks depending on each individual case. 

Child’s Preference  

It is true that a child can choose which parent to live with when he or she reaches a certain age. The age to express the child’s preference varies from one state to another. In California, a child is considered to be “of sufficient age” to express a preference when they are at least 14 years old.   

Thus, any minor over the age of 14 years old has the right to express their preference of which parent they would prefer to live with after the parents’ divorce or separation. If your child is over the age of 14, then they are considered legally capable of expressing their opinion regarding where they would like to live. The only exception to the rule is if the child’s wishes are against the child’s best interests.  

In some cases, even if the child is under 14 years old, the court may still consider their wishes when making a decision about custody arrangements. This is entirely up to the judge's discretion and will depend on factors such as maturity level or whether or not they are able to articulate why they would prefer one parent over another. When considering these factors, it’s important that both parents remain involved in an effort to ensure that the judge takes into account both sides of the story before making a decision about custody arrangements.  

Know What Your Options Are  

Remember that the child’s preference is not the only factor considered by courts, which is why you may still need to fight for your rights and your child’s best interests. At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, I can help you explain what your options are if your divorce involves minor children. Reach out to my office in Ontario or Riverside, California, and tell me about your situation.