At what age can a child choose where to live?

One of the things I have tried to do over my 18+ year law career is to debunk several “legal myths” that are out there.  One common example of such a legal myth is that there exists some magical age at which point a child can pick which parent he or she wants to live with.

The truth of the matter (at least in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and most states I would imagine) is that the magic age is 18.  That is to say that when a child turns 18, he or she is declared an adult and can live where he or she chooses.  Up to that age, however, it is up to the Judge to decide where the child should live applying the best interest of the child standard.

Like most myths, this myth is born out of a little bit of truth.  The general rule is that the older the child, the more weight the Judge is likely to give to his or her opinion, keeping in mind that the Judge is never bound by that opinion.  In other words, a Judge will sometimes agree with the opinion of a teenager if that opinion is well-reasoned and rational.  However, the Judge doesn’t have to follow the opinion of the teenager.  A classic example:  17 year old girl wants to live with mom because mom lets her stay out late with her boyfriend while dad makes her do her homework and have a curfew.  In such a case, any good Judge will overrule the opinion of the 17 year old as it is clearly not in her best interest (in this hypothetical example) to live with mom.

I hope this helps destroy this one particular legal myth.  Stay tuned for more debunking of legal myths.


Published by: David A. Bailey on February 5th, 2015 | Filed under Uncategorized

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