Child Custody: A Child’s Right to Choose?

child custody, preference of the child, Illinois family lawyerNegotiating arrangements regarding child custody can be particularly challenging after a divorce or for parents who were never married. Some parents are able to work out an acceptable agreement between themselves that takes into account the best interest of the child, while balancing the ability of each parent to provide for him or her. Others, however, cannot reach an agreement on their own and must rely on the court to make a determination for custody. Each parent often has an idea of what they would like, and often, so does the child. In many cases, the child’s wishes can influence the court’s decision.

The Child’s Wishes

It is important to understand that a child’s preference regarding custody arrangements represents only part of the court’s necessary considerations. How big a part it plays, however, must be handled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the maturity level and decision-making ability of the child. Under Illinois law, there is no set age at which a child is able to definitively decide on a custody matter; instead, his or her wishes may be given more weight based on the child’s ability to recognize what is in his or her own best interest.

In many ways, such an approach is very understandable. There are many factors involved in child custody case that a less mature child may not be able to truly comprehend. A 6 year old, for example, may think she wants to live primarily with Dad, while Dad may be working two jobs and live in a worse neighborhood and school district than Mom. A 16 year old, on the other hand, may be able to better appreciate such a situation and be able to more objectively identify what would best serve her needs.

Presenting the Child’s Preference to the Court

Proceedings of any type in court can be very stressful for children, especially if they feel that they are an issue of contention for their parents. Additionally, a court must also consider that some parents may seek to take advantage of a child’s testimony by influencing or coercing the child to take a particular parent’s “side.” As such, a child being made to testify in open court is relatively uncommon.

The judge, instead, may opt to speak with the child directly with the parents’ attorneys present, with the proceeding documented for use in later hearings. Alternatively, a professional counselor, social worker, or guardian ad litem may be appointed to work with child on behalf of the court to determine his or her preferences and best interests.

If you are involved in a child custody dispute, we understand the challenges you may be facing. Contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. We will review your case and help clarify your options. Call today and put our skilled team to work for you.

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