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Do dependents' rights change at age 14?

You may have heard that 14 is a cutoff age that decreases parents' rights and increases the rights of their children, their dependents.

In some popular iterations, this myth essentially states that kids who are 14 years old and older are allowed to do anything they like regarding a child custody arrangement. Parents are no longer allowed to make choices for them. 

An example during divorce

For instance, you and your spouse may be getting divorced, and you have two kids. One is 15 and the other is 10. As you work through the process, you decide that the best child custody situation is for the kids to live with you most of the time and for your spouse to come visit on the weekends. This gives them consistency and allows you both to stay involved with the smallest amount of complication.

The 10-year-old has to abide by the decision if the court signs off on it, but does your 15-year-old get to do anything he or she wants? Maybe that child wants to live only with your spouse, soon to be your ex, and doesn't want to see you at all. Does age alone give your child this power, even though the child is still a minor?

No. No matter how many times you hear this myth repeated, that's simply not how it works. Kids aren't given the ability to do anything they desire at just 14, against their parents' wishes.

Instead, that's the age at which they can start to make their desires known to the court and the court will consider them. Your teenage child can ask to live with your ex full time and then the court will look at all of the evidence and make a decision.

Best interests of the child

The child's wishes are part of that decision, but they're not the only factor. The court tries to look out for the best interests of the child by considering things like:

  • The health of the parents.
  • Where the kids go to school.
  • The gender of the kids.
  • Living situations and a stable home life.
  • The parents' religious decisions for the children.
  • Special needs and medical obligations.
  • Siblings, blended families, and other children.
  • Relationships with extended family members.
  • The criminal records, or lack thereof, of the parents.
  • Any history of abuse.
  • And much more.

Yes, the child's wishes are a part of this equation after he or she turns 14, but they're not all the court considers.

Your rights

As you can see, it's very important to really understand your legal rights. Don't fall for the myths, no matter how popular they are.

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