Do Kids Have A Say In California Child Custody Arrangements?

Happy mother and teenage daughter

No one enters a marriage believing it will end in divorce. Unfortunately, that often becomes a reality. A divorce is a tough time for everyone, especially when children are involved. Each parent contributes to the well-being of the child. While one parent may be the primary caregiver, the other parent may be the financial provider. Each of these positions is essential in raising a happy and healthy family. Sometimes help from a good attorney is just as important to your personal happiness and health. Do not go through your divorce alone. Having an attorney to represent you is critical. The courts will have a better understanding of your views and contributions once your attorney builds your case. Avoid costly mistakes by allowing a professional to protect your rights and advocate for the best interest of children.

At what point does the court take the requests of the child in mind? A child may prefer the notion of living with one parent or the other after a divorce. However, is it healthy, prudent, or fair to include the child in an often painful and ugly divorce process? Divorce cases tend to be emotional, especially for children. Should a child witness the anger and sometimes cruel behavior of their parents during these family law cases? The answer is a resounding "sometimes."

Children's Rights

The state of California has many laws in place to protect the interest of children during a divorce. The court aims to allow the child to receive financial support from each parent and provide joint custody unless this is not an option. It is the responsibility of the parents and the court to determine the best interest of children and ensure they are receiving adequate support in a stable environment after the divorce. 

Children love their parents. They want to make their parents happy. However, this becomes difficult when children are in the middle of a messy divorce. Parents often have disagreements determining custody, visitation, and child support. These changes are already confusing for children, but forcing them to pick sides only causes them unnecessary guilt and stress. Consequently, California laws are careful to obtain the information they need without further harming the child.

At what age can the child speak for himself?

While no law permits the child to choose their custody status, most California courts believe 14 years of age is old enough to express themselves and the reasons why they prefer one parent over the other. However, the courts also take into consideration that the teenage years are often challenging and a child may display bad behavior to cope with a divorce. Therefore, the court will listen but not assume everything the child said is black and white.

Even after custody is decided, there are times when cases must be revisited. For example, a couple may have 50/50 custody, and it may be working well. But if one of the adults is transferred for a few months with his or her job, when that person returns, they may find the former spouse no longer wants to share custody. Once again, the courts must get involved and the opinion of the child will be considered to determine a new custody agreement.

What if a young child wants to live with one parent over the other?

In a case where the child is young, the courts must intervene, Children usually operate on emotion. They may say they want to live with one parent instead of the other for reasons that have everything to do with the parents, and nothing to do with the child. Examples would be:

  • I don't want to make my dad or mom cry.
  • I don't want dad or mom to be mad at me.
  • When I visit my dad or mom, we go to fun places every day.
  • Dad or mom lets me stay up past bedtime.

After a divorce, as a child grows, their feelings about their parents change as well. As any parent who has lived through the teenage years understands, the responses they exhibit can be dramatic. It is up to the court to determine the best interest of the child and make difficult decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Therefore, parents must work together, even when they live in separate homes, to raise their children with respect.

It is important to put personal feelings aside, and behave in such a way that the courts need not enter the picture. These positive relationships are the best scenario for the parents and the child. Seek counsel from an attorney before you find yourself in court. This type of divorce mediation is your best option before the case is heard and decided.

About The Author

Gerald Tomassian has been practicing family law in California for more than 20 years. In the past two decades, Tomassian has made the commitment to practicing law with empathy and compassion. His background, knowledge, and experience have allowed him to successfully help his clients with their family law matters. 


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.