How Much Can a Child's Preference Impact Custody?

Child Custody

There are numerous factors that go into a custody decision in Texas, primarily relating to a parent’s ability to care for the child and what is in the child’s best interests. One of these factors is the child’s unique preference, which may or may not hold significant weight in the custody decision, depending on the situation. If you are currently facing a custody battle and have questions about whether your child may express their personal preference, keep reading our blog to learn more.

Factors Determining the Custody Outcome in Texas

Recall that Texas aims primarily to:

  • assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who are able to act in the best interest of the child;
  • provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child; and
  • encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

The court’s primary guideline in determining conservatorship and access to the child as mentioned above is the child’s best interests, which addresses factors like:

  • the child’s wishes;
  • the child’s immediate and future physical and emotional needs;
  • any immediate and future physical and emotional danger to the child;
  • the parental fitness of each parent;
  • the programs available to assist parents who want to promote the best interests of their child;
  • the plans each parent has for the child;
  • the stability of the home or proposed home;
  • any actions or failures to act that may indicate that the parents don’t have a proper parent-child relationship; and
  • any excuse the parents may have for the above actions and failures to act.

How Much Does the Child’s Preference Weigh in the Decision?

As noted above, one factor in determining custody is the child’s wishes. This is primarily reserved for children who are 12 years or older, though a judge can speak with a child below the age of 12 if they wish to.

To hear the child’s preference, the judge will conduct an interview with the child in chambers, or the judge’s office. In most cases, the judge will permit the parents’ attorneys, and any attorney representing the child, to be present for the interview. If the child is 12 years or older, a court reporter will make a transcript of the interview at the attorneys’ request or court’s order.

Be aware that just because a judge interviews the child does not mean they are required to act on the child’s wishes. During the interview, the judge will assess the child’s maturity level and ability to make a sound, well-reasoned judgment. For instance, if the child wants to live with one parent because they have more games in the house, it is unlikely this will be factored into the custody decision. A judge may also try to ascertain whether a child’s preference is based on a parent’s undue influence. For example, if one parent was constantly berating the other in front of the child, or if it appears a parent attempted to bribe the child with gifts, the child’s expressed preference will hold less reasonable weight. Generally, the older the child, the greater the weight the court will give that child’s preference.

Once a child turns 18 years old, they may make their own decision regarding who to reside with or spend time with. They can also refuse visitation with a parent if they choose to at that age. An exception to this age requirement could be if the child is granted emancipation, in which case they can legally make their own decisions. In Texas, the court can grant emancipation if the minor is:

  • a Texas resident;
  • 17 years old or at least 16 years old and living separate and apart from their parents, managing conservator, or guardian; and
  • self-supporting and managing their own financial affairs.

Questions? Contact The Springer Law Firm PLLC to Learn More.

If you are currently undergoing a custody battle or have general questions about factors affecting custody, contact an experienced attorney for legal assistance. The Springer Law Firm PLLC can walk you through the Texas custody process, especially if you or your child are wondering how much the child’s preference might weigh in a custody decision.

Contact our firm to schedule an initial consultation to discuss any questions you or your child may have.

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