Can anyone reasonably expect children to make the best choices regarding their physical custody after divorce? Certainly some children have the maturity needed to make this decision, but more often, they might look only at their short-term self-interests.
To cite just one example, children typically view one parent as the disciplinarian, making the other more fun by default. When given the opportunity to choose which parent to live with, the decision is likely to be more about strategy than which parent will best meet their needs. On the other hand, parents also consider their own interests and beliefs.
A Child’s Reasonable Preferences Can Help Identify Best Interests
Section 518.17 of the Minnesota Statutes specifically includes the reasonable preference of the child as a potentially-relevant factor when making child custody decisions. With the right perspective, this law can help ensure that custody decisions are based on the needs of the entire family. Of course, many factors go into making this determination, including the following:
- The child’s maturity: Judges do not recognize any specific age, so much as they try to determine if a child demonstrates the maturity level needed to make — and explain — their own decisions.
- The weight of the child’s preferences: Keep in mind that the child’s wishes represent only a relatively small percentage of the decision, based on countless other considerations relative to each parent’s demonstrated ability to care for the children. Still, the choice of a child who demonstrates the ability to present a mature case is likely to receive more weight than the choice of a less mature child.
- Child interviews: While the courts generally view courtroom testimony as potentially psychologically harmful to children, they may conduct interviews with children in chambers. While parents may not be present for these interviews to help ensure honest responses, both attorneys must be present and may even submit questions.
The courts may also require discussions between a child and professionals who are specially trained in evaluating custody decisions. There are no hard and fast rules that relate to the approach to be taken. Judges have a fair amount of discretion when choosing a process that they deem to arrive at the best decision based on the individual circumstances of each case.
Many Family Members Can Effectively Contribute to Custody Decisions
Parents who know their children well can understandably have concerns about their children’s abilities to make decisions that significantly affect their futures. However, since either parent can often provide an equally safe and nurturing environment, the children’s wishes can virtually act as a tie-breaker.
It is important to understand that primary residence represents just one aspect of a child’s future after divorce. An experienced child custody lawyer guides divorcing parents through the development of a comprehensive parenting plan that helps meet the needs of the entire family.
Call our knowledgeable Minnesota child custody lawyers at 763-323-6555 or use our convenient contact form to help ensure that the children’s contribution to child custody decisions do not outweigh their best interests.