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When can your child decide on his or her custody arrangements?

One thing you've always feared is that your child would choose to change the custody arrangements in place once he or she got old enough. At 14, the state will listen to what your child has to say and take it very seriously. However, keep in mind that it doesn't mean your child will get what he or she wants.

At 14, teenagers are still children and could make decisions for which they don't fully understand the consequences. Your teen may not think it's a big deal to ask to change to dad's or mom's primary custody, but the reality is that it can be an extremely big deal to you and your ex-spouse.

Your child doesn't get the final say

Regardless of your child's preferences, he or she won't have the final say in a custody decision. The judge is the only person who has full control over the situation and who can decide on your child's best custody arrangement.

The judge is happy to listen to your child's preferences for a custody arrangement, just as he or she will listen to what you and your spouse or ex-spouse have to say. Based on all the information, the judge either agrees with your preferred arrangements or creates a new arrangement that better suits your child.

One reason judges don't allow a child to make the decision is because of the risk of a child being tempted by a parent's promises or of the risk of the child making a sudden decision based on an argument with a parent. Child custody arrangements are meant to put your child in the healthiest position at all times, not just on whims. Your child may get a say, but at the end of the day, what your child wants is not necessarily what he or she needs.

Custody is based on many factors including your child's physical and emotional needs. The judge considers which parent has more time for the child or how to keep both parents in the child's life a relatively fair amount of the time. Except for in cases of abuse, judges generally like to see both parents spending equal or equitable time with their child, so that the child benefits from seeing both parents and being raised by both.

Child custody is sometimes difficult to arrange, but it's an important step in your case. The right arrangement can work for everyone.

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