child tugging on both parents arms

Child custody disputes are often emotional and hostile debates. It is never easy for a couple to divorce, especially when there are children involved. Deciding which parent a child will live with can mean deciding which parent they do not see as much. There is a multitude of factors that a court looks into when determining custody, and a child’s preference can be an important consideration. For help protecting your parental rights during your custody case reach out to a York County, PA child custody attorney.

How is Custody Decided?

Two parents may create a custom parenting agreement to settle custody. If they agree on the terms of which parent will have custody of the child when, how long visitation will last, etc. they can draft and sign an agreement for review by a judge. If the couple cannot agree on the terms, however, a court will make all decisions regarding custody.

A judge will consider every detail of either parent’s life and the life of the child to create an arrangement that allows the child to maintain a relationship with both parents while ensuring they are appropriately cared for.

Important factors to examine can include but are not limited to the relationship the child has with each parent, each parent’s income and financial status, each parent’s physical and mental health, where each parent lives and their housing situation, who has been the primary caretaker for the child, and the child’s desire.

Depending on the above a judge may determine which parent has legal and physical custody or if they share. Legal custody concerns a parent’s right to contribute to decisions regarding the child’s medical care, education, religion, and other matters of welfare. Physical custody refers to where the child lives and with whom.

Does a Child’s Preference Affect How Custody is Decided?

No matter how young or seemingly naive a child is, they have emotions and the right to express them. A court will always take into consideration the child’s feelings about where they would like to live and which parent they want to spend their time with. It is important to hear what they have to say and weigh their preference against the other factors outlined above.

However, while it is important to hear what they have to say, younger children may not yet understand the entirety of the situation and the implications of custody decisions. A court cannot base its decision solely on the child’s preference. The older the child is the more a judge will weigh their statement as they probably have a better understanding of the situation and can vocalize their logic with more clarity.

Pennsylvania courts do consider “the well-reasoned preference of the child based on the child’s maturity and judgment.” While their opinion will not guarantee which parent is awarded primary custody, it can offer further insight into the child’s relationship with their parents and tip the scales.