Do children get a say in where they want to live in a divorce or custody case?

Judges do their best to keep children out of their parent’s divorce or custody case by keeping them out of the courtroom.  They will want to hear the parent’s thoughts, ideas and wishes.  There may be a Guardian ad Litem, social worker, therapist or teacher who has insight into a child’s wishes.

There is no magic age in Minnesota that children get to decide where they want to live.  The older a child is the more weight a judge may give to the idea of that judge wanting to hear directly from the child; however, the chronological age is not the only issue a judge has to consider.  A sixteen year old boy may not have the maturity to understand the choice.  A fourteen year old daughter may only want to live with one particular parent because that parent has fewer rules in that house.

If a judge does decide to speak with a child to help understand where that child should live, it will not be done in a courtroom with the parents present.  When a judge speaks with a child it is done “in camera” or in the judge’s office or courtroom with only a court reporter to record the conversation.  A judge will likely be very concerned if one or both of the parents insist on being present during an “in camera” meeting because that will likely be considered as putting that child in the middle.

Every judge treats talking with a child differently.  I had one judge who spoke “in camera” with a nine year old.  A judge recently spoke with a 15 year old son and 13 year old daughter.  Some judges flat out, no matter a child’s age, will not personally speak with a child.  Judges usually assign a Guardian ad Litem to speak with the children at school or a neutral location and away from one or both parents to allow for the children to speak freely.

Do you have questions about your divorce or custody case?  Contact experienced family law attorney Jessica L. Sterle to schedule a consultation by calling (218) 722-2655.