Doesn’t a Child Get a “Say” in Custody?

In divorce or parentage cases, the standard for determining child custody is based on the best interest of the child. When a child is old enough to express a preference about his or her living arrangements, parents tend to ask at what age the child gets to decide which parent he or she wants to live with. Under New Jersey law, however, there is no such age at which a child automatically gets to make such a decision. However, New Jersey courts generally have determined that once a child is of an age sufficient to form a reasonable opinion, he or she should have some influence in the decision-making process.

In Deane v. Deane, a 2013 New Jersey divorce case, the Appellate Court ruled that a trial court judge could not allow a 12-year-old child to make her own parenting time decisions without considering other relevant factors. The girl no longer wanted to spend nights with her father, who lived in another town; the judge ultimately left that decision up to the child. In response, the Appellate Court directed the trial court to consider the 14 statutory factors for making child custody decisions set forth in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c). Although “the child’s parental preference if of a sufficient age and capacity of reason” is one of those factors for consideration, it is not the only factor that a judge must consider in a child custody determination.  However, the Court will also consider the basis for the child’s statement of preference, and may appoint a custody evaluator to assess any influence on the child or agenda of the child that may not be readily apparent but which may skew the child’s expressed preference.

Child custody law is complex, and the situation can be even more difficult when a child wishes to articulate his or her wishes on the issue. This is why you always should consult a New Jersey child custody attorney about your rights and obligations under New Jersey law. We are here to help you make the decisions in your case that will best benefit you and your family in your legal matter, including difficult child custody cases. We are here to answer your questions, ease your mind, and help guide you through what is likely to be a highly emotional and complicated proceeding. At Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, we handle many different legal issues that relate to families and children. Contact our office today and see how we can assist you with your New Jersey child custody case.