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Can a child ask a judge to live with one parent over the other?

Texas parents may wonder about how judges will weigh a child's preferences in a custody case, especially in view of the child's best interests. There may be situations in which best interests dictate that a child's preferences be ignored, especially if domestic violence or a parent's fitness are in question. Factors such as sibling relationships, family dynamics, community ties and educational needs may also play a role in the determination of custody. However, a child's wishes are a relevant concern to be addressed under Texas law. The age of a child is important in determining whether a request for a specific custodial decision may be made. A child who is at least 10 years old is permitted to issue a written request for residing with a specific parent.

The age of being afforded this opportunity has been adjusted at various times and was originally 14 years, later being dropped to 12 and then 10. The changes in this age have been questioned by some. However, a child's written request does not imply that such wishes will be upheld. Child preference is just one factor among many that a judge must consider in designating custodial responsibilities, meaning that best interests take precedence as all issues are evaluated.

The standard of a child's best interests can be difficult to define. State laws provide guidance while allowing a judge to make decisions based on the unique facts of any given case. However, there are concerns about the potential for a judge to impose personal values on a family.

A parent who is concerned about an ex-spouse influencing a child in providing a written request to the court may need legal support to properly address this issue in the court setting. Although a child's request is not the only consideration when issuing possession orders, clear articulation of one's concerns may be crucial for keeping all issues and interests in balance.

Source: State Bar of Texas, "A Child's Preference v. The Best Interests Standard", J. Lindsey Short, Jr., accessed on Feb. 3, 2015

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