There is a commonly held belief in some parts of the community that a child of separated parents can choose who which parent to live with once they turn 12.
Actually, there is no law that says children can make up their own mind about living arrangements once they reach 12, or any other age for that matter. Legally, children are considered children until they turn 18, at which point they become an adult.
This does not necessarily mean that a child’s wishes are not relevant or will go unheard. Family Courts can and often do take into account a child’s views and wishes when making parenting orders. It is important to note that children are never asked to give evidence at Court, nor should they attend Family Court hearings which concern them.
The ways in which the Family Courts can receive evidence about a child’s views include the following:
- Family Reports prepared by experts known as Family Consultants. The Court can appoint a qualified professional called a ‘Family Consultant’ to meet with and interview the child and each parent. The Family Consultant can also assess each parent’s interaction with the child. The Family Consultant will then prepare and file a report with the Court, containing their observations, professional views and recommendations. Family Consultants can also be privately appointed by the parents to prepare a Family Report.
- Evidence provided by parents or third parties such as schools, police, child protection agencies, supervised child contact services, or health professionals.
- Evidence gathered and provided by an Independent Children’s Lawyer regarding the best interests of the child.
Generally speaking, the views of older children (for example early teens and above) may be afforded more ‘weight’ by the Court than views expressed by younger children (for example, under ten years of age).
Factors such as the age, maturity and nature of the views expressed by a child will also be relevant. It is important to remember that views or wishes expressed by a child are just one of the many factors considered by the Court, and the judge is not bound to make orders in line with those views.
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We hope you enjoyed today’s blog.
The eDivorce team
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