What age does a child have to be to choose with which parent they want to live?
This is probably the most common question I get from parents. It’s also probably the most misunderstood topic out there in custody law here in Utah. Most of the time people ask me to confirm what they heard out there. Many people believe that a child can simply pack up and move by choice at age 12, 14 or 16. However, the correct answer is that at no age. So, the age 18 the age that a child emancipates and becomes an adult.
Here in Utah a child is never given the choice to choose with whom they want to live. In other words a child does not get to or better said they don’t have to choose between their parents, the parents decide. And if they can’t decide you can have the court decide this for you. The law of Utah like every other state provides the custody is determined by what is in the child’s best interest which may be in line or out of line with what the child prefers. Preference is taken to an account with the other factors such as the primary caretaker status, flexibility of schedules, domestic violence, stability of the environment and many other factors that the court uses.
However, there are laws in Utah about what age a child’s preference is taken into consideration and how much weight is given to a child’s preference when a court decides. The weight that a child’s preference receives from a court depends on the child’s age, intelligence, and maturity.
Utah Code section 30-3-10 subsection 1 E is the controlling statute and states quote: “The court may inquire of the children and take into consideration the children’s desires regarding future custody or parent time schedules. But the expressed desires are not controlling and the court may determine the children’s custody or parent time otherwise. The desires of a child 14 years of age or older shall be given added weight but it’s not the single controlling factor.”
In practice it is a case by case and a child by child family by family standard. For example, you might have a 14 year old who is articulate and puts a lot of thought into his preference and articulates his preference by stating, “I have made poor choices and friends slacked off in school and having difficult time getting along with my mom and I want to have a fresh start by changing schools and living with my dad who can help me get where I want to be. Doesn’t that sound like some good reasons as to oppose to perhaps a 15 year old who may state that he wants to live with dad because dad doesn’t bug me about chores and homework and he has a cool Xbox machine? Not necessarily mature reason. There is no age but at 14 their preference is given greater weight.