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Can children choose their own custody situation?

After nearly two decades of marriage, your spouse asks for a divorce. You have a child together, a 14-year-old boy. You both want custody, and you're both very involved in your son's life.

However, you have heard that children can essentially do whatever they want at age 14. They can simply ask the court to let them live with their mother or father, and the court has to go along with it. The child is now old enough to choose their own custody situation, and what you want -- or what you think is best for the child -- doesn't matter anymore.

Is this actually how it works? Is the decision ultimately up to your son at this point?

The truth

This is a common myth. The reality is that courts simply begin to consider the child's wishes at age 14. They'll allow them to have a say and make requests. They'll take the child's desires into account along with all other factors.

However, the court still focuses on the child's best interests, just like they do in every other child custody case. It doesn't matter if your son is 14 or has even turned 15 by the time you get to court. That does not change the overall goal, which is to give the child the best possible chance at a happy, healthy, well-adjusted life.

Of course, the child's wishes are part of the equation. They are old enough to have a say. A child may prefer one parent over the other. They may have other reasons -- like staying in the same school system -- for choosing where they want to live.

The court cares about the child's happiness. They take what the child wants into account. They try to find a solution that puts them first and gives them a solution they'll enjoy.

But the court is by no means bound to follow along with what the child wants. If they determine that it's in your son's best interests to split time with both parents, but your son only wants to live with one, they can still order that you share parenting time. They don't have to do what your son asks.

What the court recognizes is that your child is old enough to have an opinion and a preference. However, that child is still only 14 years old. They know that may not be old enough to make rational decisions, so they're not going to let a child control the entire process.

Your options

Do not let myths influence how you look at divorce and child custody. Take the time to look into all of your options, your parental rights in California and the steps you need to take.

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